Sunday, January 07, 2024

2023 NFL Week 18: Regular Season Finale — Packers vs. Bears Preview & Prediction

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here it is Packers fans: the 2023 regular season finale against that team from south of the border. You know. Da Chicago Bearz. As you'll recall, the Pack started the season in Chicago and left with a win in QB Jordan Love's first start. Would be a nice way to bookend the regular season games with another win in Lambeau Field, wouldn't it? And, even better (well, really, is there anything better than beating Chicago?), a win gets the Packers into the playoffs as the number 7 wildcard.

Getting to the playoffs: what a great way to put a highlight on Love's first season as the starter, something neither Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers was able to do, by the way, in their first seasons as the starter. They managed pretty well anyway overall, but wouldn't this just be the icing on the cake as the Pack seems to have found — again — their franchise quarterback going forward? Indeed. It's been 30 years of misery for NFC Central/North opponents with those 2 under center. May it continue thusly with Mr. Love.

Packers QB Jordan continued the ownership of Da Bearz in
his first meeting with them in the first game of the 2023 season in Chicago.
Fans hope to see that ownership continue in today's game at Lambeau Field.
(Photo via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Anyway, what does this game look like? Let's see ...

The Preview

Both the Packers and Da Bearz (the latter, believe it or not) come into this game on a bit of a roll. The Pack has certainly been a different team offensively the second half of the season as Love has taken command, complemented, as we know, by a group of gritty and talented first and second-year players at the skill positions. Plus a solid offensive line. It's been impressive. As for the Packers defense ... well, that's been hit and miss. When they miss, as in tackles or coverages, for example, it hasn't been good. Defeats snatched from the jaws of victory in some cases. On the other hand, when they play as they are capable of (as in last weekend's dominant victory against the ViQueens in Minnesota) they can hold their own against any team. Which will show up today?

LATE EDIT: The Packers will NOT have WR Christian Watson available; TE Luke Musgrave is, albeit limited given his recent injury status. There may in fact be 7 wideouts active today, not including the tight ends. (And, hey, what about recently-activated practice squad player WR Bo Melton setting a record in last week's game? Wow.) RB Aaron Jones will have to play a key role in keeping Chicago's top-rated run defense from shutting down that aspect of the game. Unfortunately, RB A. J. Dillon is not active today due to a stinger he sustained in the game against Minnesota so RB Emanuel Wilson was activated off the practice squad. He had actually been performing well before a shoulder injury sidelined him.

On defense, Jaire Alexander is coming off his 1-game suspension and, by all accounts, was perhaps a bit humbled by that experience. He may take out his angst on Chicago's top receiver, D. J. Moore. That would be perfectly appropriate. And helpful. LB De'Vondre Campbell will be active today and that should also help, as long as defensive coordinator Joe Barry doesn't ask him to cover receivers.

The main task for the Packers defense will be keeping Chicago QB Justin Fields from shredding them with his legs. He has admittedly been throwing better in recent games, but if the defense can make him hold the ball (statistically, he holds the ball longer than any other QB) and contain him, they could get sacks and, even better, generate some turnovers. But they better keep Fields from running free or they will be in trouble and the game will be closer than it should otherwise be.

We're not concerned about the Packers offense given what they have demonstrated lately. Love was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his game against the Vikes. He has arrived, arguably, as a legitimate top 5 QB at this point. Not bad for his first season as the starter.

Granted, Chicago's defense is actually playing as well or better than any defense in the league lately, not only against the run but in terms of interceptions. They have been a take-away factory. Now, supposedly their top d-back is out today (remains to be seen) which will help. But with the plethora of weapons the Packers have on offense, and if the O-line can hold up against a good defensive front and create a running lane once in a while, Green Bay should put up points.

The question, as unfortunately we have asked every game this season, is what the defense and special teams will do. Which D will show up today? Will they cover? Will they tackle? Will they keep Fields in check? Will special teams minimize breakdowns and will K Anders Carlson be perfect in his PATs during this game (he has missed 5 this season...not good).

The Prediction

The oddsmakers have the Packers favored by 3 points, the home field advantage. Some are surprised it's not more than that. But, OK, it's seen going in as a close game with the Packers sitting at 8-8 and Da Bearz at 7-9. Got it.

The Packers are playing for the playoffs: win and they're in (but they can still get in, with help, even with a loss). Chicago is playing to be the spoiler, as Detroit was in the final game of last season. They are also playing, perhaps, for Fields' career in Chicago and the survivability of the coaching staff. They already have the number 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, so not much too lose at least in terms of the franchise regardless of whether they win or lose today.

Normally at this time of year, we also start to factor in the weather and how it may impact the game. Here's the current forecast:

  • Expected Temperature: Low-30s
  • Showers: <10% chance of precipitation
  • Wind: 8 mph westerly
So, cold, yes, but snow or rain and winds should not be a factor.

Now, I did request predictions from some of our buddies about today. Gonzo (a loyal Packers fan and PackerFansUnited reader in AZ) says 27-24 Packers. Our token Bearz fans friends are split. Billy Da Bearz Fan says it will be Da Bearz on top 21-19. Stan the Realistic Bearz Fans says, while he hopes it would be 40-0 Bearz, he sees the game going in the Packers favor 28-24.

We're calling it Packers 31 - Bearz 24.

Go Pack Go!!!