Packers-Bears II: A sharp turn in the rivalry

When the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers met in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, we noted how professional and cordial their rivalry was. Their fans might hate each other, but the teams themselves rarely crossed into trash-talk and never engaged in dirty play.

So much for that -- at least the former. We'll find out Sunday at Soldier Field if the latter will emerge as well.

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs was the latest to break the mold, calling Packers tight end Jermichael Finley an "idiot" for suggesting the Bears might be better off with linebacker Brian Urlacher sidelined. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Briggs advised Finley to "just suit up and play ball."

Frankly, I'm so immune to Finley's often-inane comments that I was hardly moved by this one. I don't disagree with part of his premise -- Urlacher has indeed been slowed this season -- but as always, other parts can be read as provocative. Briggs took the bait, or at least capitalized on the opportunity, and off he went.

Whether it's for show or a display of genuine emotion, we've seen an unmistakable sharpening of the edges this season in the Packers-Bears rivalry. It can probably be traced back to Week 2 and some sharp comments from Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, who said he saw "the same old Jay" in reference to quarterback Jay Cutler's four interceptions. Woodson also seemed perturbed that "all of a sudden [the Bears] were the team to beat because they got a couple new guys."

As we noted yesterday, Bears receiver Brandon Marshall further stoked the fire by saying he took exception to the Packers' analysis of why he caught only two passes in that Week 2 game. Finley jumped in with his usual nonsense, and that brought us to Briggs.

So what exactly is going on here? Part of it, I'm certain, is an edgy Bears team that knows the implications of another December collapse. In addition, the Bears have lost seven of their last eight games to the Packers while playing nice with them. What do they have to lose by mixing it up a little more?

In the end, absolutely none of this will have an effect on who wins Sunday. But it sure helps fans and media members pass the time before kickoff.