It’s no fun to roll into December with no discernable chance at the playoffs, especially when you’re winding things down on the Aaron Rodgers era. But I know this: Every time the Green Bay Packers tangle with the Chicago Bears, it means something — maybe more for those of us who grew up in Milwaukee, where hating the Bears is ingrained at a very early age.
I mean, if you’re a “Packer Preview” listener, you know I will always come out of a break with the 90’s classic, “The Bears Still Suck,” by the Happy Schnapps combo on a Bears gameday. Nothing gets me more ready for the next installment of the league’s oldest rivalry than a minute or so of that classic.
There are some fun sub-plots going on. Will this be Aaron Rodgers’ last start of the season? Will it be his last start in a Packers uniform? And will the Packers finally surpass the Bears as the winningest team in NFL history? Both teams sit at 786 wins. Here’s a fun exercise for another day: Which team will get to 800 first?
Rodgers further enflamed the Bears fanbase with his iconic “I still own you!” sendoff last season. Now he and his teammates will likely have to deal with a motivated and vastly improved Justin Fields, who’s expected to return after missing last week’s game. With the bye coming next week, you’d think they’d let him heal up. But this is Packers week, and there’s no way he misses this chance to show his team and its fans that the torch is finally being passed.
Good luck with that on Sunday. The Bears are a shell of the team that they were even a few weeks ago. Gone is big-play receiver Darnell Mooney and emerging running back Khalil Herbert; gone is all pro safety Eddie Jackson, gone are their two impressive rookies in the secondary, safety Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon — both dealing with concussions. And lest we forget, since the last meeting, the Bears have shipped out their two veteran defensive leaders, Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn.
The New York Jets’ Mike White, making his first start of the season, hung more than 300 yards, three touchdowns, and 31 points on this defense, in case you have any doubt why Rodgers would need to have broken ribs to miss this one. We can argue whether it makes more sense for Jordan Love to play (of course it does). But for me, if healthy enough to play, Rodgers should start against the hated Bears since there is a razor-thin chance at the post-season. Coming out of the bye, I hope Love is the guy for the final four games.
The Pack will be without David Bakhtiari, who had an appendectomy on Friday. I’d be fine with shutting him down for the rest of this lost season — I think the Packers will swallow hard and cut him loose in the offseason anyway. Give rookie Zach Tom five games to show whether he can be the future there or if the Pack will need to consider using their early first-round pick on a new left tackle.
Romeo Doubs and De’Vondre Campbell are listed as questionable, but with the bye week looming, it would make sense to give them a couple more weeks to get healthy. My sense is that Campbell plays and Doubs doesn’t. Getting the linebacker back would be helpful, knowing that between Fields and David Montgomery, the Bears may run the ball 40 times. They watched the Philadelphia Eagles game. If I were them, I’d dare the Packers to stop them on the ground.
With the sun shining and temperatures in the mid-30s, the weather won’t be a factor. Both teams should probably be laser-focused on 2023 at this point and look to start developing their young, promising players. It’s Bears vs. Packers. This game always means something extra, especially to the fans. Rodgers loves torturing them — and without a pass rush and with a banged-up secondary, the Bears will once again prove to be his favorite home away from home. Maybe for the last time.