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First-and-10: On the brink, Bears can exorcise some demons vs. Packers on Sunday

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) tries to stop Green Bay Packers running back Noah Herron (23) during the Bears' 24-17 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Christmas Day in 2005 that clinched the NFC North title in Lovie Smith's second season as head coach. | Mike Roemer/AP photo

The Bears’ opportunity to clinch the NFC North against the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field is perfect for Bears fans who have been scarred by the team’s recent late-season foibles against its rival.

The Bears, in fact, have lost their last six games against the Packers in December-January, including three that have been as costly as they have been painful.

† In 2010, the Bears (11-4) had a chance to prevent the Packers (9-6) from making the playoffs in a Week 17 game at Lambeau Field but lost 10-3 in an uninspired effort in which Jay Cutler was sacked six times. Failing to deliver the knockout blow proved costly, as the Packers beat the Bears in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field en route to winning the Super Bowl.

† In 2012, the Bears (8-5) lost to the 9-4 Packers 21-13 at Soldier Field in Week 15 for their fifth loss in six games after a 7-1 start. It turned out to be a death blow — despite winning their last two games, the 10-6 Bears still missed the playoffs.

† In 2013, the NFC North title was on the line when the Bears (8-7) played the Packers (7-7-1) at Soldier Field. But Aaron Rodgers, playing for the first time in eight weeks since suffering a broken collarbone when he was sacked by Shea McClellin at Lambeau Field, threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left to rally the Packers to a 33-28 victory and keep the Bears from making the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

This time, Rodgers and the Packers (5-7-1) — with no chance to win the division and a slim chance to make the playoffs — can only inflict minimal damage on the Bears’ playoff hopes. They can still clinch the division Dec. 23 against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

In fact, even if the Bears lose out and finish 9-7, the only team that can prevent the Bears from making the playoffs is Washington. And the Redskins (6-7), who have lost four in a row since starting quarterback Alex Smith was injured, are unlikely to sweep their last three games (at Jacksonville, at Tennessee and vs. Philadelphia) with fourth-stringer Josh Johnson at quarterback.

Still, a Packers victory likely would force the Bears to beat the 49ers and Vikings on the road to beat out the Cowboys for the No. 3 seed in the NFC — and likely avoid a first-round playoff game against the surging Seahawks in favor of a rematch with the struggling Vikings at Soldier Field.

2 Are we due for yet another volatile swing in the Bears-Packers rivalry? General manager Ryan Pace looks like he’s building sustainable success with Matt Nagy developing Mitch Trubisky and the offense and an established defense already in place. The Packers, meanwhile, have fired defensive coordinator Dom Capers, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy in the last year and are likely to miss the playoffs with Rodgers starting every game for the first time since 2008. It’s hard to believe the Packers won’t hire a Sean McVay/Nagy type to rejuvenate their offense while Rodgers still is playing at a high level.

2a Bears-Packers runs: Bears 15-3 (1983-92 under Mike Ditka); Packers 20-3 (1992-2003 with Brett Favre); Bears 7-3 (2004-08 under Lovie Smith); Packers 17-3 (2009-18 with Rodgers).

3 The Bears’ defensive performance against the Rams should go down as one of the best in recent memory, if not franchise history when you consider the strength of the opponent. The Rams’ offense came in averaging 32.3 points per game — with 30, 40, 36 and 35 in its previous four games. The Bears held them to two field goals.

The last time a team that ended up in the top five in the NFL in scoring was held to six points or fewer with its starting quarterback was in 2013, when the Patriots (27.8 ppg) lost to the Bengals 13-6. The last time a top-five scoring offense was held to less than that was in 2009, when Andy Reid’s Eagles (27.6 ppg) were shut out by the Cowboys 24-0 in Week 17.

4 Trubisky’s 33.3 passer rating — which sounds like a record — is the lowest in a victory this season for a quarterback in a complete game. In fact, it’s the lowest for a winning quarterback in the NFL in a complete game since 2013, when Terrelle Pryor had a 25.9 rating (with a 93-yard touchdown run) in the Raiders’ 21-18 victory against the Steelers.

5 The Bears’ playoff hopes are likely to hinge on Trubisky’s development in the last three weeks of the season after missing two games with a sprained shoulder.

Trubisky is having a milder Good Rex/Bad Rex season. In his four best games, Trubisky has a 132.1 passer rating (14 touchdown passes, one interception). In his bottom seven games, he has a 67.8 rating (seven touchdown passes, 11 interceptions).

6 After holding the Rams to season lows in points, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards, the Bears’ defense is ranked in the top 10 in every major statistical category — third in total defense, second in rushing yards, 10th in passing yards and first in interceptions per pass.

This is the latest an NFL defense has been in the top 10 across the board since the Panthers after Week 14 in 2015. The 2013 Seahawks are the last defense to finish the season in the top 10 in every category. Both of those teams reached the Super Bowl, with the Seahawks winning it.


• Forget the records, fans: Aaron Rodgers always poses a problem for Bears

• The right Mattitude: Why a Packers tryout remains important to Bears’ Matt Nagy

7 The Bears’ defense will miss nickel back Bryce Callahan, if he’s out with a broken foot as has been reported. Callahan has had a breakout year with 43 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Callahan had played in 81.8 percent of the defensive snaps — sixth-most on the team — before leaving after 13 plays against the Rams.

But it’s a hit the Bears should be able to take. Sherrick McManis led the Bears with seven tackles, including a tackle for loss, against the Rams after replacing Callahan in the first half.

If anything, his injury is a reminder of just how fortunate the Bears have been. They’ve lost only five games to injury among their top 15 players on defense — Khalil Mack (two), Prince Amukamara (one), Aaron Lynch (one) and Bilal Nichols (one).

8 Defensive players the Bears can least afford to lose: 1. Mack; 2. Akiem Hicks; 3. Kyle Fuller; 4. Eddie Goldman; 5. Eddie Jackson; 6. Roquan Smith; 7. Danny Trevathan; 8. Amukamara; 9. Leonard Floyd; 10. Callahan; 11. Adrian Amos; 12. Roy Robertson-Harris; 13. Nichols; 14. Lynch; 15. Jonathan Bullard.

9 Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week Award: Dolphins left guard Ted Larsen had the key block on safety Patrick Chung at the Patriots’ 30-yard line that cleared the way for Kenyan Drake to complete a 69-yard touchdown on a pass/lateral as time expired in a stunning 34-33 victory over the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Larsen started eight games for the Bears in place of injured starter Kyle Long in 2016.

10 Bear-ometer: 11-5 — vs. Packers (W); at 49ers (W); at Vikings (L).