LAKE FOREST – The storied rivalry between the Bears and the Packers resumes Sunday, and it’s in a weird place because neither team has much of a shot at the playoffs.
The Packers (4-8) will come to Soldier Field to face the Bears (3-9) in the 206th meeting between the two franchises. The good news is quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Justin Fields are expected to play through injuries, giving this matchup some added appeal.
The Packers have won seven consecutive games against the Bears. Green Bay leads the all-time series 104-95-6. Heading into Sunday’s matchup, these two organizations are tied with 786 wins (most all time) since the NFL was formed in 1920.
The game kicks off at noon Sunday and will be broadcast on Fox.
1. Aaron Rodgers’ return to Soldier Field
The last time Rodgers was at Soldier Field was his infamous “I own you” celebration in October 2021. The Packers might be struggling this season, but Rodgers’ statement still rings true. The four-time MVP is 23-5 in his career against the Bears.
There was some doubt heading into the week that Rodgers would play. He suffered a rib injury last week against the Eagles and already was dealing with a thumb injury. But Rodgers holds no injury designation ahead of the game, and he plans to play.
A significant absence will, however, be felt by the Packers at left tackle. David Bakhtiari had an appendectomy and will not play this week.
2. Justin Fields returns
Fields appears to be poised to make his return after sitting out last week’s loss to the Jets. He returned to full participation in practice this week. He injured his left shoulder Nov. 20 against the Atlanta Falcons after taking an awkward fall. That prompted the Bears to go with Trevor Siemian last week against the Jets. Siemian will have season-ending surgery on the oblique he injured while warming up before the Jets game.
With Fields back, the Bears chances in this game improve quite a bit. He’s still working with a depleted supporting cast. His favorite receiver is out for the season and the defense is missing several starters.
Fields might have to carry much of the load himself against the Packers, but the Bears could also be cautious with their injured QB and draw up fewer designed runs.
3. The Bears’ offense without Darnell Mooney
Bears receiver Darnell Mooney is done for the season because of an ankle injury he suffered last week. That will significantly alter the chemistry of this offense through the last five games of the season. So how will the Bears adjust?
There will certainly be more passes thrown to targets such as Cole Kmet, Chase Claypool, Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. This will be a major challenge for an offense that has, despite the emergence of Fields’ running abilities, thrown the football at historically low levels.
Fields said he is excited to build chemistry with his other targets.
“I don’t think it’s a challenge actually,” Fields said. “I think it’s an opportunity.”
4. The Bears’ secondary is depleted
Like Mooney, safety Eddie Jackson suffered a season-ending injury last week. DeAndre Houston-Carson will start for him Sunday. The Bears will be without rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon and rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, who are dealing with concussions.
Rodgers is going to have plenty of young defensive backs to pick on Sunday. Kindle Vildor likely will start at cornerback, and rookie Elijah Hicks could start at the other safety spot. Undrafted rookie corner Jaylon Jones likely will be the fifth DB off the bench.
That combination struggled in the second half last week against the Jets. The Packers haven’t been the most prolific offense, but rookie Christian Watson has emerged in recent weeks, scoring six touchdowns in the past three games. Receiver Allen Lazard has been steady and consistent. This could be a big test for those young defensive backs.
5. Can the Bears slow Aaron Jones?
The last time these two teams played, Packers running back Aaron Jones averaged 8.8 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. He totaled 132 rushing yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 38 yards. Jones and the Packers’ rushing attack has had an up-and-down season, but they had no problems against the Bears in Week 2.
The Bears are allowing 143.9 rushing yards per game (ranked 27th among 32 NFL teams). It would surprise nobody if the Packers leaned heavily on Jones and fellow back A.J. Dillon in this game. The Bears have allowed 149 rushing yards or more in back-to-back games.