Packers know their neighbors
You can try to hide the belly belt and spray-on hair, you can cover up the ThighMaster and Shake Weight, but the truth is nothing about you is going to come as a much of a surprise to someone so close in proximity.
If the neighbors don’t know most everything about you already, they simply haven’t been paying attention.
Take the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, for instance.
Every year they visit one another’s house for a three-hour stay and by the time the visitor exits the door, he’s learned just about everything he can about his neighbor. So, if you think things are going to be dramatically different when they gather for a previously unscheduled third time, you can assume everything’s out in the open.
“Obviously we know those guys,” receiver Greg Jennings said earlier this week. “They know us. There’s nothing that they’re going to do different that we’re going to be like: ‘Oh my gosh, where did that come from?’ ”
“And there’s nothing that we’re going to do that says, ‘Wow, we didn’t prepare for that.’ They know what we are. They know how we operate. And we know who they are. We know how they operate.”
The fact these two teams played on Jan. 2 in the regular-season finale speaks even more to a sense that neither team is going to fool the other. Facing a must-win to make the playoffs, the Packers pulled out a hard-fought, 10-3 victory at Lambeau Field.
Now, just two weeks later, the coaching staffs for both teams are behind closed doors dissecting the previous two meetings—the Bears won the first game, 20-17, at Soldier Field on Sept. 27—and preparing for a third go-around, this time for the right to go to Super Bowl XLV.
This is the first time two NFC teams from the same division have played for the conference championship since the NFL went to a six-team playoff format in 1990.
In the AFC, it has happened three other times, the last being Pittsburgh’s 23-14 victory over Baltimore during the 2008 season. The other games were Tennessee over Jacksonville in ’99 and Buffalo over Miami in ’92.
Overall, there have been 38 playoff meetings between division foes since ’90, including a Packers loss to Minnesota in ’04, and if there is something to be taken from those results it is that the home team has won 25 of them.
If you take out the games in which one team swept the other in the regular season—a sign the two teams may not have been evenly matched—the results aren’t that much different. In series that finished 1-1 in the regular season, the home team went 15-7 in the playoff.
The one caveat is that the road team won two of the three championship games between division rivals.
“It’s tough in the NFL to go on the road and get wins, but I think our coaching staff does an excellent job of keeping us focused on not on what the opponent does or what the possible distractions are, but more focused on what we need to do,” Packers center Scott Wells said.
In the last meeting between the two teams, Bears coach Lovie Smith surprised many people by playing his starters the entire game despite having already locked up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. From the Packers’ perspective, Smith didn’t hold back on anything in that game.
“At least from our standpoint it looked pretty much the same,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “I don’t know what they would say about it. But we felt like they had their normal game plan in.”
Several Bears said after their victory over Seattle to advance to the championship game that they did hold back on some of the things they might do in the playoffs, which means the Packers could see some new wrinkles.
Asked if he thought his defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, would be able to come up with something the Bears hadn’t seen, Hawk said it’s possible.
“Every game is separate from the other ones, I think,” Hawk said. “But as a defensive guy, coach Capers right now is sitting up there drawing up different schemes of what to do and how to attack their offense.
“But when you come down to it, teams aren’t going to change as a whole. Our core, what we do as a core offense, defense, special teams is not changing. We’re going to stick to who they are, they’re going to stick to who they are, and there’s obviously little things thrown here and there but for the most part we’re going to stay the course.”
Over the past three weeks the Packers haven’t held back on anything because it has been win or go home. So it’s possible they will have to work just a little harder to make sure there isn’t some unscouted look the Bears are able to pull out of their hat.
As they prepare during the week, they’ll look for any nugget of information they think might help.
“When you play a team like that, you may not feel that you have to put in as much studying because you feel you know that team,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “But you don’t take that approach. You have to go back in, pay attention to more details and kind of go into the Chicago Bears locker room and see can you understand their plays like they understand it.”
It may be bad manners to snoop around like that, but in a game of this importance, both teams will have to be excused for their nosiness.