Green Bay Packers

The Fascinating Unknowns Of the Re-Vamped Packers Vs. the New-Look Bears

Photo Credit: Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

The legendary NFC North rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears has seen far better days than the last decade and change. The obvious culprit is the dichotomy between Green Bay’s perfectly executed long-term succession plans at the game’s most important position and Chicago’s revolving door of lackluster signal callers over the years. However, in fleecing the Carolina Panthers in a trade for last spring’s No. 1-overall pick, Ryan Poles has the Bears on the doorstep of a promising future.

Over the past few years, Bears fans have been known to have their most exciting moments between March and August before quieting down once the results come in. Justin Fields was briefly their would-be messiah, contrary to his perception in the eyes of many scouts and analysts. This time around, the consensus surrounding Caleb Williams’ ability is far stronger. As Cris Collinsworth would say, his college tape is a bit Mahomesy. As a result, even the players are talking with four months between now and kickoff.

On her show, Kay Adams told Bears wideout D.J. Moore that the Packers (and Detroit Lions) had beefed up their secondary. The typically mild-mannered Moore responded, “WHO?…oh, that’s nice.”

After a career-high 1,364 yards and eight scores in an anemic offense, it’s hard to blame Moore for his optimism now that Keenan Allen and Rome Odunze will join him, along with Williams. Even though last season was Moore’s first in Chicago, it seems he is already tired of being another team’s little brother after Jordan Love took over right where Aaron Rodgers left off, going 2-0 against his cross-town rival.

Of all the battles between Love’s Packers and Williams’ Bears, the matchup between Chicago’s passing game and Green Bay’s new-look secondary might be the most fascinating. Both sides are loaded with both big names and big personalities. Jaire Alexander returns as the crown jewel of what is now Jeff Hafley’s defense. The Xavier McKinneyJavon Bullard safety duo surpasses the motley crew that manned center field under Joe Barry and Mike Pettine.

When the Packers brought Alexander in, he filled a dire need for a star cornerback. However, he doesn’t have a consistent running mate on the other side of the field. Given Chicago’s depth and the ongoing emergence of Jordan Addison and Jameson Williams as secondary threats elsewhere in the division, that spot potentially becomes the most pivotal. After Brian Gutekunst didn’t invest in that position at last month’s draft, save for a seventh-round investment in Penn State’s Kalen King, either Eric Stokes or Carrington Valentine figures to step into that role.

Valentine was impressive last year, particularly as a seventh-round rookie. His name steadily moved up everyone’s list throughout camp, and the Packers called his number at numerous points in 2023. However, Stokes is far more intriguing. His rookie highlights were electric for two reasons. He was good, and the instincts and athleticism he flashed suggested he would be really good as reps continued to pile up.

Unfortunately, the reps did not pile up. Stokes has been essentially off the board for two consecutive seasons nursing significant lower-body injuries. Last week, the team declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, with the major concern being how his injuries will affect his speed and athleticism. Coming out of Georgia, his 4.25 40-yard dash time was one of the driving forces that made him a Day 1 pick.

Love is eligible to sign an extension as of last week, and all parties involved remain optimistic that it will get done, setting the stage for an absolute saga in the NFC North between him and Williams. The Vikings drafted J.J. McCarthy, their presumed quarterback. However, he’s likely on a different timeline. The matchup between Williams’ receiving corps of Moore, Allen, and Odunze and Hafley’s secondary of Alexander, McKinney, Bullard, and Stokes promises to be a dynamite factory that goes a long way toward deciding whether Green Bay’s dominance will continue. Alexander will likely draw Moore, with Keisean Nixon doing the dirty work in the slot with Odunze and likely Allen. The other corner spot will be pivotal, and Bullard’s transition to the next level will only hold back the safety position.

There’s something awfully funny about the fact that the Packers have undergone a successful rebuild before the Bears. History unequivocally suggests continued dominance, but many loud voices believe Chicago’s time is finally on the horizon. Will it be Alexander sheathing his sword yet again at Soldier Field, or will it indeed be the dawn of a new day? It will be nothing if not exciting to find out.

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Photo Credit: Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

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