NFC North Reporter
It’s Week 18 of the 2022 season. The Green Bay Packers are fighting for a playoff spot after winning their last four games, including a division win over the Minnesota Vikings. All they have to do is beat a surging NFC North opponent with nothing left to play for and they’ll make the postseason.
It’s Week 18 of the 2023 season. The Green Bay Packers are fighting for a playoff spot after winning their last two and five of their last seven, including a division win over the Minnesota Vikings. All they have to do is beat a surging NFC North opponent with nothing left to play for and they’ll make the postseason.
Time is a flat circle.
There are some key differences between the 2022 and 2023 Packers, primarily the guy under center. Aaron Rodgers, already disillusioned with the franchise, was at the helm last year. Green Bay lost to the Detroit Lions, who were fueled by nothing but spite after a Seattle Seahawks win earlier in the day dashed their playoff hopes. Detroit just rallied to play spoiler to the Packers.
This year, a fresh-faced and improving Jordan Love is under center and the Packers will take on their most bitter (at least, historically) rivals in the division: the Chicago Bears. At 7-9, the Bears are out of playoff contention. They even have the No. 1 overall pick thanks to a spring trade with the Carolina Panthers. They seemingly have nothing to play for except pride.
But that’s something Chicago has a lot of. For this year, at least, this is the Bears’ biggest game.
“It’d mean a lot to the team, the fans, the city,” said Bears quarterback Justin Fields this week. “I think it’d be great. We know Green Bay is playing for a lot […] with all that on the table, it’d be a great feeling to end the season with a win at Lambeau.”
There’s incentive beyond playoffs for Love to win, too. He began his first year as starter by beating the Bears at their place. Now, he has the chance to do it again and this time, at Lambeau. Love has the opportunity to pick up right where his predecessor left off. Rodgers infamously claims an ownership stake over Chicago, given that he beat the Bears 25 of 30 total times he faced them, including the eight-game win streak he ended his Packers career with. Rodgers even chimed in this week, still claiming the green and gold.
“This is their Super Bowl,” he said on the Pat McAfee Show (among other wildly reckless things). “If they can’t beat us, is it really a rivalry?”
The truth is it hasn’t been — and Love can continue that stretch of dominance.
Packers beat Vikings and Jordan Love has finally found his footing
Love also has the opportunity to do something Rodgers couldn’t accomplish last season, and further confirm Green Bay is in good hands when it comes to their quarterback: get to the postseason.
Last season, Rodgers threw for 3,695 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions through 17 games. This year, Love has thrown for 3,843 yards, 30 touchdowns and 11 interceptions through 16 games — and his play has gradually improved. Love registered his third consecutive game with a passer rating over 105, which was his ninth such game this season. His season-high rating of 125.3 came last week over the Vikings. His second-highest rating? Week 1 over the Bears.
It’s a nightmare scenario for Chicago fans, who thought the Packers’ reign of terror over them and the rest of the division was over. Green Bay might not have a handle on the North right now, but with the youngest roster in the league ranking sixth in weighted offensive DVOA (adjusted so that earlier games in the season become less important) and fifth in passing DVOA, they’re poised to contend for the division as early as next year, provided they can figure out their defensive issues. But when it comes to their quarterback, it sure looks like Green Bay did it again with Love.
[Vitali: Justin Fields’ recent play has made Bears’ QB decision more complex… or has it?]
The fun part is, so are the Bears, but for the opposite reason. Provided they make a good decision at quarterback, the rest of the roster is shaping up well. Chicago was fourth in weekly DVOA for Week 17. That’s a far cry from where they were at midseason, ranking 28th in Week 8.
Following the trade for Montez Sweat at the deadline, the Bears are surging behind a defense that has climbed into the top five in the same weighted DVOA metrics. The Bears own the league’s second-best rushing defense according to yards allowed per game and have gathered 16 interceptions in their last six games.
On top of that, the offense has looked more consistently competent behind the improved play of quarterback Justin Fields. The team hung 37 on Atlanta, a top-10 defense statistically, and Fields threw for 235 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for his fourth touchdown of the year. A decision under center looms for the Bears, who have an opportunity to start the quarterback clock over with the best quarterback class in years coming out of the draft. Or, they bank on Fields’ ascension continuing. The decision isn’t made yet and Week 18 could very well factor into it.
A win over the Packers is enough to sustain the city until the Bears are truly contenders.
I was at the Week 18 game in Green Bay when the Lions played spoiler to the Packers. It was one of the most electric locker rooms I’ve ever been inside. It also propelled the Lions into the 2023 season, all the way to the division title.
Perhaps a win over the Packers on Sunday afternoon can do the same for the Bears?
Time is a flat circle, after all.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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