5 things to watch in the Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers game — plus our Week 18 predictions

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The Chicago Bears close out the 2023 season the way they started it — with a game against the Green Bay Packers.

Of course, the Bears hope for a different result Sunday at Lambeau Field after the Packers shocked them with a 38-20 win in the opener Sept. 10 at Soldier Field.

That was the Packers’ ninth straight victory in the rivalry. The Bears’ last win against the Packers was in 2018, and their last win at Lambeau Field was in 2015.

As kickoff approaches, here’s our snapshot look at the game.

Players in the spotlight

Jordan Love and Justin Fields

The stakes are high for both quarterbacks — but in different ways.

In his first season as starter replacing Aaron Rodgers, Love has led the Packers to an 8-8 record and the brink of the playoffs. If they beat the Bears, they’re in.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus and a couple of his players noted how comfortable Love has looked lately. In helping the Packers go 6-3 over their last nine games, Love has completed 67% of his passes for 2,351 yards, 19 touchdowns, three interceptions, 15 sacks and a 105.5 passer rating.

“The coaches have done a good job coaching the rhythm and timing of what they are asking him to do,” Eberflus said. “They are on the same page with the receivers. You can feel that chemistry there.”

Meanwhile, Fields isn’t playing for a postseason berth, but he can make a good final impression as the Bears decide their path at quarterback moving forward.

Fields has had success of late, too, helping the Bears to a 4-2 record since returning from a dislocated right thumb. He has completed 60% of his passes for 1,213 yards, five touchdowns and one interception (three if you count picks on Hail Marys) and also has run for 393 yards and three touchdowns. Building upon a big performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17 certainly would give the Bears something to consider as they plot their course.

Fields has been consistent in focusing on his weekly work rather than the future.

“I don’t even know if we’re going to get next week, so I’m just worried about the rest of the day and the rest of the night,” Fields said. “So I’ve got these meetings I’m about to head to. We’ve got a game Sunday. I’m not focused on what happens after that.”

Pressing question

Can the Bears show the Packers they’re better than the Week 1 team that flopped?

When linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi watched the film from the Bears’ season-opening loss, it seemed “like years ago.”

“We feel like we’re a completely different defense now, and we’re excited to go out there and put it on display,” Borgonzi said.

A Bears that didn’t get a takeaway against the Packers — and had only two through four games — now has 27 takeaways, including a league-leading 22 interceptions, thanks to an increased chemistry and the addition of Pro Bowl defensive end Montez Sweat. A Bears defense that gave up 31 points to the Packers — the other seven coming on a Packers pick-six — has allowed just 15.2 points per game over the last five games.

While the Bears don’t have the playoffs to motivate them, more than one player mentioned wanting to show how much the team has changed in the rematch.

“We want to go in there and get a dub, not just because it’s Green Bay but just because we owe each other that,” cornerback Tyrique Stevenson said. “Coming out Week 1, not being the prepared team we are now, and just going out there now and knowing we’re going to go play our game is just a different feeling.”

Eberflus insisted his team was “going to keep it about us” instead of making it about spoiling the Packers’ chances. But Fields did get one dig in at their rival when asked about facing a tough road test.

“It’s going to be a fun environment to walk into their home field,” Fields said. “I know their fans are going to be loud because there’s not much to do in Green Bay except watch football.”

Keep an eye on …

The Bears coaching staff

Beyond Fields’ future, Bears leaders also have decisions ahead about whether to retain Eberflus and his coaching staff, namely offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. And while Sunday is just one game, it’s also a chance for the Bears to drive home that the progress they’ve made over the last five weeks is real — and to do it against the team’s biggest rival.

Eberflus has sidestepped questions about his and others’ future, including one this week about Getsy’s job security.

“Any question like that I’m going to answer it the same way,” Eberflus said. “And it’s just going to be (wait) till next week. We’ll look at everything, all-encompassing, players, coaches, everybody. “We’ll sit down and have evaluations with everybody and we’ll do that next week.”

Getsy, whose unit will go against a defense that is 21st with 344 yards allowed per game and 28th with 131.6 rushing yards allowed, also declined to offer big-picture answers about the effectiveness of his offense this season. But he did say he believes his relationship with Fields is great.

“The going-forward part, that’s something that’s bigger than where we’re at right now, because we’re thinking about Green Bay,” Getsy said. “We’re all in that mindset. We have a great relationship, we work really well together. He inspires me daily with his mentality, his focus, his faith. We have a really good relationship, and I think Justin’s future is super bright.”

Eberflus said he believes the franchise has reason to be “optimistic” about their future with the No. 1 draft pick in hand.

“It’s an exciting team to be a Chicago Bear and be a Chicago Bear fan,” Eberflus said. “There are a lot of bright things that are coming ahead of us in the future, and we’re certainly excited about all those things.”

In the zone

After a terrific performance slicing up the Falcons defense Sunday, Fields will take a different kind of test in Green Bay. He’s 0-5 with a passer rating of 72.8 in five career starts against the Packers. And he’ll have to elevate his performance to elevate the Bears offense against a defense that uses a heavy volume of zone coverage looks.

Fields is significantly more comfortable and more effective against man-to-man defenses, which contributed to his success in the win over the Falcons. Now he’ll have to find answers against a Packers defense that gets its juice from defensive end Kenny Clark and outside linebacker Rashan Gary.

Said Getsy: “They have this elite front that makes you not be able to hold the ball very long. And then you have these zone defenders where their eyes are on you and playing your game.”

Getsy has also taken note of how effective the Packers have been at keeping the top on their defense and limiting deep passing opportunities. ”You’re not getting behind them,” he said. “You have to be detailed and you have to be in time. Timing and rhythm is critical when you play zone defenses like this.”

Injury report

Pro Bowl cornerback Jaylon Johnson hasn’t practiced this week and is officially listed doubtful to play with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Falcons. Receiver Darnell Mooney, meanwhile, has been declared out with a concussion, ending the final season of his rookie contract.

In an under-the-radar development, long snapper Patrick Scales missed two practices this week with a foot issue, and the Bears signed 38-year-old veteran Matt Overton to the practice squad as their safety net. But Scales was back on the field Friday, is officially listed as questionable and should be in line to play in his 120th consecutive game.

Other Bears questionable are Kyler Gordon (calf), Lucas Patrick (calf) and Khalil Herbert (back).

For the Packers, running back A.J. Dillon (thumb/neck) and safety Rudy Ford (hamstring) will be out. The Packers have eight players listed as questionable, most notably receivers Christian Watson (hamstring), Jayden Reed (chest) and Dontayvion Wicks (chest) and outside linebacker Preston Smith (ankle).


Brad Biggs (12-4)

Nothing is at stake for the Bears but everything is on the line for the Packers, and that makes it a great test for Matt Eberflus’ crew. At least 12 teams will be starting a backup quarterback in Week 18, but the Bears will go against emerging talent Jordan Love, who gets far less national coverage than Justin Fields even though he has thrown 30 touchdown passes in his first season as a starter. That’s because Love’s future isn’t a hot-button topic. The Bears should be able to move the ball on the ground, although the Packers’ 28th-ranked run defense has been better the last three weeks. One pressing question is how Fields will perform against a secondary that will lean heavily on zone coverage. Wide receiver DJ Moore got only two targets in the first meeting. That number should be multiplied by three or more. If Eberflus’ defense remains opportunistic, the Bears can do to the Packers what the Lions did a year ago — keep them out of the postseason.

Bears 24, Packers 21

Colleen Kane (11-5)

The Bears are 2-6 on the road this season — though two of those losses came under backup quarterback Tyson Bagent — and I imagine Lambeau Field isn’t going to be an easy place for them to play Sunday afternoon. It looks like a good opportunity for the Bears to keep their run game going strong, but the Packers defense could challenge Justin Fields and the passing game. The idea of a signature win for Matt Eberflus and Fields has come up a couple of times this season. This would be one. Whether the result sways the minds of Bears leaders one way or the other, a win up in Packers territory certainly would be a memorable way to close out the season. But the Packers and Jordan Love have the playoffs within reach, and that could give them the mental edge.

Packers 27, Bears 24

Dan Wiederer (11-5)

The Bears have a golden opportunity to punctuate their late-season surge with a road upset that would end the rival Packers’ season. Intriguing, right? The defense has been playing at a high level recently, enough to carry its weight Sunday afternoon. So ultimately, this might come down to how well Justin Fields plays. He will have to be sharp against the Packers’ zone coverages. He will have to take care of the football and avoid tide-turning sacks. In the end — and in the interest of great season finale-theater — Fields will be positioned to lead a game-winning drive in the late stages of the fourth quarter. Hold on to your seats.

Packers 24, Bears 22


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