The 202 games played between the Bears and Green Bay Packers are the most by any two teams in the NFL. They are the two most successful and storied franchises in NFL history, and in spite of the Packers’ recent dominance, it is remarkable how balanced the outcomes have been. It is one of the best, if not the best, rivalries in all of professional sports.
But as winners of 16 of the past 19 meetings, Green Bay’s edge is as impossible to ignore as the current gap between the teams’ two quarterbacks.
It is, however, also a mistake to ignore the gap between the two defenses and the Bears’ advantage there.
This certainly will be a statement game for the Bears – one way or the other – and it is a first-place showdown.
The Bears are 4½-point underdogs, and the over/under is 45.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Packers OTs Elgton Jenkins, Billy Turner and Yosh Nijman vs. Bears edge rushers Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and company
All eyes will be on Bears quarterback Justin Fields and Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s efforts to leverage Fields’ inexperience, but Packers All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari is stuck on the physically unable to perform list. While Jenkins is their next best lineman, he isn’t a natural tackle and has missed the past three weeks with a bum ankle.
Nijman has three starts under his belt at left tackle if Jenkins is unable to play again this weekend, but he is a second-year undrafted rookie free agent. Turner is a journeyman signed away from Denver last year after five years in the league primarily at guard.
The matchups set up well for the Bears’ pass rushers.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Will Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor trust the run game without RBs David Montgomery and Damien Williams?
The Bears’ winning formula is clear, and it revolves around defense and running the football, which allows them to ask as little of Fields as possible while he continues to grow.
The biggest surprise of the win Sunday against the Raiders was how solid the ground game was with Williams and Khalil Herbert, but will the Bears’ coaches have that same faith in Ryan Nall and/or Artavis Pierce?
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Packers RB A.J. Dillon, LB DeVondre Campbell, NT Kenny Clark; Bears RB Khalil Herbert
Everybody knows Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones are the focal points of the Packers’ offense, but while they search for a second option to Adams in the passing game, Dillon is emerging as a special talent in the running game.
Campbell is the most significant change in Green Bay’s defense this year and their most active defender, and Clark may be the best nose tackle in the league right now.
What the Bears need from Herbert to win should be obvious.
Bears QB Justin Fields, WR Allen Robinson, LB Khalil Mack; Packers OT Elgton Jenkins, RB Aaron Jones
I asked Nagy on Friday if he can stay run-first without his top two backs. Nagy said they have to be careful knowing what the backups are ready to handle. It suggests Fields will be asked to do at least a little more, and after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday and being limited Friday, how prepared is Robinson to help him?
After missing three games, Jenkins was limited in practice all week, as was Jones. Mack didn’t practice all week, but both he and Jenkins are listed as questionable.
WILD-CARD PLAYERS WHO COULD SURPRISE
Packers WRs Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard; Bears RBs Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce
The Packers continue to hope Valdes-Scantling and/or Lazard can be meaningful second options to Adams. Each has shown flashes with big games, but now in their fourth seasons, neither has settled in.
If Nall or Pierce shows up like Herbert did last week, it changes the complexion of this game.
THE FINAL WORD
Packers 20, Bears 17
I believe the Packers are somewhat overrated, and the Bears are a bit underrated right now, but that doesn’t make them even. I like what the Bears have shown recently. But impressive as they were in Las Vegas last weekend, the Raiders also were awful, and I need to see the Bears beat a good team playing well before I can pick them to beat Rodgers.