Christmas comes early for NFL fans this year. With 24 teams still mathematically alive in the playoff race, Week 15 boasts a bevy of games with major postseason implications. In fact, six games feature teams that are both above .500, and five feature at least one team with a clinching scenario. Let's take a closer look at these six Statement Sunday matchups.
What's at stake?
The oldest rivalry in the NFL has rarely meant more in the regular season. A road win by Green Bay would clinch the NFC North for the Packers and keep them in the hunt for a playoff bye. A win by Chicago would tie things up in the division with two games to play. Chicago hasn't been able to beat Green Bay when it's counted for years, and the Bears have to be worried about slipping out the playoffs entirely.
Player to watch
Lovie Smith, head coach, Bears: Remember when the Bears were dominant? That feels like it was a lifetime ago. Phil Emery was hired as the Bears' general manager after it had already been decided that Lovie would stay on. That decision seemed sound during a 7-1 start, but injuries and ineffective play have since derailed the Bears Express. Sound familiar? Yeah, same story last season. I don't think Lovie can survive yet another collapse. More ...
Matchup to watch
Bears' offensive line vs. Packers' pass rush: The Packers, who are sixth in the NFL with 35 sacks, won the teams' first meeting this season in large part because of their ability to rush the quarterback. The Bears have allowed 37 sacks this season but just three in their past three games. Can their line pull together and handle Matthews and Co.? More ...
Did you know?
Since 2001, no team in this rivalry has won the game while losing the turnover battle. The Bears lead the league this season in takeaways (35). ... Aaron Rodgers is undefeated in his last 10 starts vs. NFC North opponents. ... Rodgers has been sacked 42 times this season, most in the NFL and more than all of 2011 (36). ... Since 2006, in the Bears' 13 games vs. Green Bay, they are averaging 16.8 points per game. During that same time period, they've averaged 23.3 PPG against all other opponents. ... Jay Cutler is 1-6 vs. the Packers as the Bears' starting QB, throwing seven TDs and 16 INTs. ... Brandon Marshall has 1,342 of the Bears' 2,760 receiving yards this season, 48.5 percent. It is the second-highest percentage by a player of his team's total receiving yards in a season since 1960.
Elliot Harrison's prediction
This game could be 24-20 or 45-3 in favor of the Packers. It's tough to decipher which Chicago team will show up. Without Brian Urlacher roaming the middle of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's Cover-2, expect Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb to connect in the soft underbelly of the defense -- the middle. Matt Forte has never rushed for 100 yards against the Packers. If ever a team needed a 100-yard game from a back, this is it. Keep Cutler upright and the defense honest, right? Too bad Forte averages less than 50 rushing yards per game in his career versus Green Bay. Packers 24, Bears 17. (See predictions for every Week 15 game.)