The Packers and the Bears have taken decidedly difference paths since their meeting at Lambeau Field in the 2018 season opener.
The Packers, a popular preseason Super Bowl favorite, are 5-7-1 and hanging by the thinnest of postseason threads. Mike McCarthy no longer commands the sidelines, Joe Philbin does.
The Bears, 9-4 and atop the NFC North standings, are one victory away (or a Minnesota Vikings loss) from clinching the division title and earning a playoff berth for the first time in eight years.
Chicago is a solid favorite to send Green Bay packing at the conclusion of the regular season December 30th without a postseason berth for the second consecutive season. The Bears shut down the high-flying Los Angeles Rams before a national audience Monday night to stamp themselves as a top NFC contender.
Mike Ditka, making steady progress since suffering a heart attack last month, said his former team is for real.
“For years, Bears fans have not had much to cheer about,” the former hall of fame tight end and head coach said. “If you’re going to beat Chicago, you’d better bring your lunch pail and be prepared for a long and physical game. They sure kicked the (expletive) of the Rams—and they’re one of the top two or three teams in the league. They are a balanced team and do a lot of things well, and Green Bay will be hard-pressed to score on that defense.”
Ditka will be watching the NFC North showdown from the comfort of his Florida home with his wife and family members. And his voice rises during a phone interview when asked to discuss what the league’s oldest rivalry means to him.
“To me, the Bears-Packers says it all: that’s football,” Ditka said. “So much history and tradition. Halas. Lambeau. Lombardi. Starr. Butkus. Nitschke. Payton. It’s the greatest rivalry in the National Football League.”
After 197 games, Green Bay leads the all-time series 97-94-6 including a 1-1 record in post-season play.
The Packers’ 24-23 victory three months ago in Green Bay was one for the ages.
Rodgers continued his mastery of the Bears, playing through a knee injury in the second half to throw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter—a career first—to rally the Packers from a 20-point deficit to a dramatic 24-23 victory.
That’s why he’s the best in the game,” Ditka said after that contest. “Aaron willed himself into that position. The Bears could have won the game, but they didn’t. They didn’t because of one reason: Aaron Rodgers. It was amazing to watch.”
“He’s a warrior. . . he gives us everything he has,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who caught the game-winning 75-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers with 2:13 remaining.
Rodgers had an anemic first half: actually rushing (one rush for 15 yards) for more yards than he passed (three completions for 13 yards). He was knocked out of the contest early in the second stanza with a knee injury on a sack and was carted off to the locker room, stunning the Lambeau Field crowd.
Rodgers finished with a 20 for 30 performance for 286 yards and three touchdowns—with no interceptions for a 130.7 quarterback rating.
For Green Bay to have success against one of NFL’s top-ranked defenses at Soldier Field that allows just 19 points per game, Rodgers and the Packers offense will have to play a complete game—with no lulls in productivity that have plagued the team to date. And also continue to convert on third down to sustain drives—another season-long area of concern.
Running back Aaron Jones did not play in the first meeting as he was serving a two-game suspension, and his explosiveness adds a new dimension to the Green Bay offense, with interim head coach Joe Philbin calling the plays.
“You know, they say you throw out the records in the Packers-Bears games,” Ditka said. “With a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, if he gets hot, look out. But the Bears defense will get after him with pressure. That’s the only way to beat great quarterbacks—make them uncomfortable and do things they don’t want to do.”
Mitchell Trubisky and Kahli Mack are forces an injury-riddled Packers defense will contend with. Green Bay will strive to keep its postseason hopes alive and continue an eight-game winning streak at Soldier Field.
Week 15 Picks
The Bears’ 15-6 victory over the Rams last Sunday night proved they belong among NFC’s elite teams. Chicago’s balance and pressure defense is too much for undermanned Green Bay. Road woes continue at Soldier Field Sunday.
Bears 30, Packers 20.