The NFL schedule should be coming out before too long, so exact dates of particular matchups arent officially available yet. But one matters game is already pretty well established.
Every year except for 2009 since Lovie Smith arrived, the Bears and Green Bay Packers have played their second meeting as game 15 or 16 of their schedules. Given that a stated goal with bringing in Phil Emery as general manager was overtaking the Packers, that game in 2012 looms as nothing less than a potential referendum on Emerys first year of stewardship.
Were Brandon Marshall and presumed draft hits enough? Thats what Bears-Packers II will reveal.
Consider: In 2005 the Bears won at Green Bay in game 15 and clinched a home game in the divisional round (not that it ultimately mattered, but thats another story).
The 2006 season ended with a Bears loss in a throwaway game. The 2007 game-15 win wasnt enough to get the Bears into the playoffs; the next year it should have been enough but for a game-16 loss to Houston that undid whatever good the OT win had accomplished.
The Packers used their game-16 win in 2010 to punch their playoff ticket and went on to win the Super Bowl. Last year the game-15 loss to the Packers was the Bears fourth loss to Green Bay in one calendar year and probably did as much to end Jerry Angelos Chicago tenure as anything.
It also assured the Bears no better than an 8-8 finish in what turned out to be a year in which a team scraping into the playoffs at 9-7 would win the Super Bowl.
Eliot Harrison over at NFL.com rates Bears-Packers II No. 5 among his 12 games to watch in 2012. Considering that some of his higher-rateds are kitchy one-year novelty ones like Denver-New England because of Peyton Manning, or New England-Baltimore because of last years playoff field-goal gaffe, Bears-Packers II stands as one that points to far more significance than most.