GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The 186th edition of the 91-year rivalry between the Packers (9-4) and Bears (8-5) will have it all Sunday when the two teams meet at Soldier Field (noon on FOX). Green Bay can win the NFC North title with a victory, there are significant playoff implications for both teams and the buildup to the game has included plenty of trash talk.
"I don't like the Green Bay Packers," Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall told Chicago media Wednesday, which began a series of back-and-forth jabs across the state line. "I really dislike the Green Bay Packers and their players. This is personal. All that shaking hands stuff, it's not going to happen."
The next day, Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings offered a not-so-friendly response.
"Let him hate us; We hate them, too," Jennings said. "Bottom line, we don't like them, they don't like us."
The week's intensity escalated further when Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley was asked for his thoughts on the Bears playing without 13-year veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher, who's out Sunday with a hamstring injury.
"Urlacher is at the end of his career right now; he's playing a little slow out there," Finley said. "I don't think they're losing too much if he's out. Putting another guy in might help them a little."Urlacher's decade-long teammate Lance Briggs didn't appreciate Finley's comments.
"He's an idiot," Briggs said of Finley to the Chicago Sun-Times. "Just suit up and play ball."
Urlacher later shot back at Finley, as well.
"Just like a couple of years ago, I think, (Finley) tore his ACL and the Packers were actually better without him," Urlacher told SiriusXM NFL Radio according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "You know, they won the Super Bowl. I hope we can duplicate that as well because it won't hurt my feelings if we go on and win the Super Bowl without me like they did without him."
On the field, the Packers and Bears are heading in opposite directions. Six weeks ago, Chicago was comfortably sitting atop the division with a 7-1 record, with its only loss a Week 2 setback in Green Bay. Since then, the Bears have lost four of their five games and are now in danger of falling out of the postseason picture altogether.
"Like any season, (it's been) a little up and down," Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler said in a teleconference this week. "There's been some highs, there's been some lows, but (we're) not playing our best football as of late."
The Packers, however, have been trending upward for the past two months. Following a 2-3 start to the season, Green Bay has won seven of its last eight games amid multiple injuries to key players.
"It's been a season where we've all learned a lot about the kind of guys we have in the locker room," Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this week. "That's exciting. We feel like we're kind of in the middle of this story; hopefully there's a great ending to it."
Jennings and fellow Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson have played less than one quarter together since September, both battling injuries at various points of the season. That will continue Sunday with Nelson (hamstring) out of the lineup.
"It would be nice just to have everybody out there, just to see what we look like again," Jennings said. "It's been a tough season. I told Aaron the other day, there's really nothing I can do about it, but I know it's had to be rough for him ... I go down, Jordy goes down; it just hasn't been that consistent."
The Packers' star defensive player, outside linebacker Clay Matthews, has been stuck on nine sacks for six weeks after a hamstring injury derailed his Defensive Player of the Year-esque start to the season. Matthews is expected to play Sunday for the first time since Nov. 4.
"I look for Clay to play and make an impact in the game," coach Mike McCarthy said Friday after listing Matthews as probable.
Future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson was supposed to return by now, eight weeks after breaking his collarbone, but the Packers medical staff has yet to clear him.
"I don't think any of us would be doing our jobs if he went out there this week and something happened," McCarthy said of Woodson.
The Bears aren't much healthier. In addition to Urlacher, Chicago will be without wide receiver Earl Bennett (concussion) and cornerback Tim Jennings (shoulder) and also has defensive tackle Henry Melton (chest) and first-round pick defensive end Shea McClellin (knee) listed as doubtful.
If the Bears win, they'll pull into a tie with Green Bay at 9-5 and move closer to securing a postseason spot, whether it's as the eventual division winner or a wild-card team. If Chicago loses, its playoff chances -- which seemed a given only one month ago -- will be in jeopardy and the Bears will have to watch their biggest rival celebrate an NFC North championship in the middle of Soldier Field.
"We're coming in hungry," Rodgers said. "We're going down there (and) we've got the chance to win the division. This could allow us to reach our first goal, and that's what we're going for."
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