The NFL’s oldest rivalry resumes Sunday, and the stakes are extremely high.
The Green Bay Packers (10-3) host NFC North rival Chicago (7-6) at noon, CST, in the 200th meeting of this historic series. The Packers hold a 98-95-6 overall advantage, which includes two playoff games (1-1).
Green Bay will clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Rams loss/tie, or a tie combined with a Rams loss.
Chicago will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss/tie combined with a Minnesota win, or a loss combined with a Rams win.
Therefore, there’s a lot of the line for both teams.
Here’s a look at each positional group and which team has the edge.
Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, has been red hot of late. In Trubisky’s last two starts, he’s completed 75.4% of his passes, averaged 291 passing yards and thrown six touchdowns vs. two interceptions.
Trubisky, a solid athlete, also showed off his running skills last week when he had 63 rushing yards and a touchdown against Dallas.
Trubisky had a brutal start to the year in which he threw just five touchdowns in the first seven games and had a passer rating of 80.0. But he’s found his groove of late and is making a strong case to be Chicago’s quarterback in 2020, and beyond.
“I just think he’s playing at a really high level right now,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Trubisky this week. “They rolled up a pretty good number on a pretty solid Dallas defense. He just looks decisive, if it’s not there he’s using his legs a little bit more, so we’re gonna have to be extremely disciplined in our rush lanes and make sure we keep eyes on him at all times because he’s a talented guy and if it’s not there on schedule, he can really hurt you with his legs.”
Several national pundits have finally started to realize that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers isn’t the same player he was earlier this decade. The truth is, Rodgers has been living on that reputation for quite some time now.
Rodgers is averaging just 7.4 yards per completion this season, which ranks 16th in the league. Rodgers also ranks 11th in passing yards (3,260) and 17th in completion percentage (64.4%).
Teams are now trying to take away the running game and make Rodgers beat them. In past years, such a strategy would have been preposterous.
But that approach shows how Rodgers is now viewed by opposing defenses.
Green Bay’s Aaron Jones had 22 total touches last week and 192 total yards.
There have now been four games this season when Jones has had at least 20 touches. In those contests, Jones has averaged 187.5 yards per game, scored eight total touchdowns and helped Green Bay go 4-0.
In the three games that have immediately followed, Jones has averaged just 11.7 touches, 37.3 total yards and has two total touchdowns. The Packers must be sure not to forget about Jones Sunday.
Bears coach Matt Nagy desires a “carry-by-committee” approach with his running backs. As the year has progressed, though, rookie running back David Montgomery has become Chicago’s bell cow
Montgomery has averaged 17.3 carries the last seven games, but is also averaging a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry.
Shifty Tarik Cohen is more dangerous as a pass catcher (60 receptions) than a ball carrier.
Chicago’s Allen Robinson has been the best part of the Bears’ inconsistent offense this season. Robinson, who inked a three-year, $42 million contract before 2018, has 76 catches for 898 yards and seven touchdowns this year despite inconsistency from the quarterback position.
No. 2 Anthony Miller (41-531) is having a solid second season. Miller was a walk-on at Memphis, is ultra-competitive and is dangerous after the catch.
After that, the Bears are extremely thin. No. 3 wideout Taylor Gabriel (concussion) is out. Chicago is also down to its third tight end, as starter Trey Burton (calf) is on injured reserve and No. 2 Ben Braunecker (concussion) is out.
That means Cordarrelle Patterson — a dangerous, but inconsistent offensive player — could take on a greater role.
Green Bay’s Davante Adams has lacked explosiveness since returning from a turf toe injury on Nov. 3. In the five games since, Adams is averaging 10.06 yards per catch, well below his average of 15.12 the first four games of 2019.
Green Bay has started the same group all 13 games, and expects the same quintet to take the field Sunday. That type of health is remarkably unique and has helped this unit play at a high level.
The Bears rank 18th in sacks allowed (35).
Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. has allowed four sacks and been penalized 10 times. Last year, Leno Jr. had just one holding penalty.
Center Cody Whitehair was a Pro Bowler a year ago, while left guard James Daniels had an impressive rookie year. The Bears asked them to switch positions earlier this year, then moved both of them back to their old spots last month.
Former Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long (hip) is on the injured reserve list for a fourth straight year. Converted defensive lineman Rashaad Coward has been below average as Long’s replacement.
Right tackle Bobby Massie (ankle) is out. Gigantic, but slow-footed Cornelius Lucas (6-9, 328), will make his third straight start for Massie.
The Bears get a boost from the return of defensive end Akiem Hicks. The eighth-year pro has 33.5 career sacks, and went to the Pro Bowl last season after posting 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman (6-4, 320) is much more than just a plugger in the middle. He can collapse the pocket and open rush lanes for teammates.
End Bilal Nichols, a fifth round pick in 2018, has been below average. End Roy Robertson-Harris is a strong inside pass rusher, but is questionable with a foot injury.
Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark had 1.5 sacks last week and now has 13.5 since the start of 2017. Green Bay would be wise to lock Clark up to a long-term contract sooner rather than later.
Chicago’s Khalil Mack is among the most disruptive defensive forces in football. Mack has 20 sacks and 11 forced fumbles since coming to Chicago at the start of 2018.
Emerging star Roquan Smith went to the injured reserve list this week with a torn pectoral injury. Smith’s 101 tackles led the Bears by a wide margin.
Danny Trevathan, the other inside linebacker, is also out with an elbow injury.
Run-stuffing Nick Kwiatkowski is a dependable replacement for Trevathan. Kevin Pierre-Louis, a fourth-round pick by Seattle in 2014, is on his fourth team in four years and will start for Smith.
Strongside ‘backer Leonard Floyd will wow you with a flash play, then disappear.
Green Bay’s Za’Darius Smith has been double teamed on more than 26% of his snaps, which is tops among all edge rushers. On the flip side, Smith has pressured opposing quarterbacks on 18.2% of snaps, which is the highest pressure rate among all edge rushers.
Bears No. 1 corner Kyle Fuller, a Pro Bowler in 2018, is terrific at reading a quarterback’s eyes and a master at jumping routes. Fuller led the NFL with seven interceptions last year, but is a gambler and can be beaten deep.
Veteran Prince Amakamara, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, is expected back. Amakamara tries disrupting routes with an aggressive, hands-on approach.
Kevin Toliver (6-2, 192), who went undrafted in 2018, has ideal size and held up well last week when Amakamara was out.
Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson takes terrific angles to the ball. His impact plays have been down this year, but he’s also been extremely reliable.
Former Packer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix signed a one-year deal with Chicago and is in the midst of a “prove it” season. He’s doing just that, too, with 66 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups. Clinton-Dix has also cleaned up many of his tackling problems that plagued him in Green Bay.
“It means a lot,” Clinton-Dix said of returning to Green Bay. “Just to go back and be able to play against the guys that I’ve been with for the last five years and be able to compete against your friends. It makes the games more fun and more competitive.”
Green Bay’s Kevin King missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury, but is expected back. The 6-foot-3 King could see a lot of snaps on Chicago’s 6-foot-3 Allen Robinson.
Tyler Ervin — who was signed Dec. 3 as Green Bay’s primary kick and punt returner — had a stellar debut last week. Ervin returned four punts for 51 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per attempt.
Prior to the game, the Packers had minus-8 yards on punt returns all season. Green Bay was also closing in on the NFL record for fewest punt return yards in a single season of 27, set by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965.
Ervin took care of that, though, with a big effort against Washington.
“He’s aggressive. He’s the definition of a north-south returner,” Packers special teams coach Shawn Mennenga said of Ervin. “He truly wants to hit it north and south and isn’t afraid. He runs behind his pads.
“You can tell he’s a running back and stuff. He runs behind his pads and has good vision, and just hits the return downhill and will run through contact, which you will always appreciate. He gets the maximum yards that are there.”
Chicago has extremely dangerous return men in Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen. Patterson is averaging 30.2 yards on kickoffs and has a 102-yard touchdown. Cohen is averaging 9.1 yards per punt with a long of 71.
“I know Cordarrelle is one of the best of all-time as far as his average and having seven career touchdowns,” Mennenga said. “He’s just a big guy that hits it.
“Cohen has been a Pro Bowl returner and is dangerous every time he touches the balls. They’re definitely the best duo of returners we’ve seen.”
Kicker Eddy Piniero has been up and down and converted of 16-of-21 field goals (76.2%). Punter Pat O’Donnell ranks 21st in gross average (44.8) and 27th in net (40.6).
Chicago’s Matt Nagy, who’s just 41, is 19-10 in two seasons. Nagy led the Bears to a 12-4 mark and the NFC North title in 2018, but Chicago lost to Philadelphia in the NFC Wildcard Game.
Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich run an RPO-based attack. Chuck Pagano, a former head coach in Indianapolis, runs the defense.
Matt LaFleur, who turned 40 last month, became the first Green Bay coach to win 10 games in his rookie season. Mike Holmgren and Mike Sherman (both 9-7) held the mark for most wins by a Packer coach in their first year.
Prediction: Packers 20, Bears 17