The NFC North will be decided on Sunday, Dec. 29, as the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears will do battle to see which team deserves the chance to continue its season into the playoffs.
Aside from your typical storyline of this being a divisional rivalry, there are plenty of other relevant stories to follow as the game progresses. The return of a former NFL MVP will have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the game, and his presence will certainly help to transform a previously inconsistent offense.
A quarterback could also be on his way out, and Week 17 will potentially be his last chance to plead his case to upper management. He can be a solid signal-caller when healthy, but injuries and inconsistency have hampered his 2013 season.
With so much to pay attention to in this NFC North clash, it's sure to result in one of the best games of Week 17.
Aaron Rodgers is Back
By now, you all know that Aaron Rodgers will be active and starting for the Packers.
What you might not have known, however, is that head coach Mike McCarthy has no plans of limiting him and will likely open up the full playbook for his top-tier quarterback. He told NFL.com's Dan Hanzus, "We're going to cut him loose and we're going to play. We're going to play to win."
With Rodgers in the fold, the Packers become a legitimate threat to both the Bears and the rest of the NFC. Should they win and advance to the playoffs, the Packers will boast one of the best passing attacks and will be capable of taking down the conference's top defenses.
In this game, look for Rodgers to come out firing on all cylinders. Chicago is the team that injured his collarbone back in November, and his injury is what gave the Bears hope for the NFC North in the first place.
A Green Bay team led by Rodgers for the entire season likely wouldn't have been in a do-or-die situation in Week 17. Matt Flynn played respectable football, but he and Seneca Wallace are not the team leaders or difference-makers that Rodgers has proved he can be.
He's the most important player in this game—period.
Jay Cutler's Last Game as a Bear?
Jay Cutler is 1-7 all-time against the Packers, and that doesn't really bode well for him in a game that could very well decide his future with the Bears moving into next season.
Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times poses the question that has been on everybody's mind.
With the playoff play-in Sunday against the Green and Gold, it's fair to wonder, then: will Cutler's last career game with the Bears come against the Packers, too? Will it be a loss?
And, with his contract expiring at the end of the season, would the two be interconnected?
Cutler will need to lead his team to a win and be nearly flawless to convince Chicago's upper management that he can be the quarterback of the future. A so-so performance in a victory could convince management to extend a franchise tag his way this offseason. This would effectively give him one more season to convince the Chicago faithful.
The problem with Cutler is his tendency to make poor decisions when under pressure and force throws to receivers that aren't open. He's been picked off 11 times in just 10 games this season, but there have been so many more passes that were risks but can't be quantified in the "interception" category.
This could very well be it for Cutler, but he'll go out swinging.
Winner Moves to the Playoffs
Perhaps the biggest storyline is what's on the line for both teams in this game—a trip to the playoffs.
We all know that records don't matter in the NFL when it comes to teams that qualify for the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last season after a 10-6 campaign, and the team with the most momentum usually makes the most noise in January.
A Packers team, with a win this week, can ride that momentum (and Rodgers' right arm) to potential upsets in the first round or two of the playoffs. At that point, previous results and regular-season results go out the window.
For Chicago, the big-play weapons will have to step up. Cutler will need all the help he can get from Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. If they can rack up yards and prevent turnovers, then the Bears will fight tough until the end.
This game has the makings of a great one. Don't miss it if you want to know how the NFC playoff picture plays out.
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