For the first time in recent memory, the Green Bay Packers enter week 17 in control over their own destiny to win homefield advantage in the playoffs.
How fitting that their last obstacle to the NFC’s top seed is their oldest rival, the Chicago Bears.
The Packers have done what many, including myself, thought they would not before the preseason, and that is have a chance to match their 2019 win total in week 17 and position themselves as the conference’s top dog.
The last time the Packers earned the NFC’s #1 seed was the 2011 season. I don’t need to remind you of what happened.
It’s fair to say, however, that the Packers have a more well-rounded team this time. The defense, while certainly not the team’s strength, is much better than that 2011 unit, and also is building momentum heading into January.
The offense might not have the same historical firepower that the 2011 unit had, but it, too, is more well-rounded, with three capable running backs giving the Packers the ability to take the game over on the ground as well as through the air.
This, to me, is the most championship-capable team Green Bay has had since 2014, but this time, the Packers can avoid having to take a road trip to notch their second Super Bowl appearance in the Aaron Rodgers era.
Like 2011 and 2014, the Packers have the league’s (presumptive) Most Valuable Player leading the way. Aaron Rodgers is playing some of the finest football of his career, and the winter weather against Tennessee didn’t appear to slow him down one bit.
There’s not much left to say at this point. Take care of business against Chicago, bring the playoffs through Titletown, and go get yourself a Super Bowl.
It is time.
Rashan Gary continues to affect the game
Rashan Gary has seen his stock rise in a big way this season, and he continues to make an impact on nearly every play he’s in the game.
The Packers hit a season-high 22 quarterback pressures against Tennessee, and Gary once again led the team, with six. That’s on just 30 total defensive snaps. I’d have to go back and check how many of those are pass-rush snaps, but needless to say, Gary was making Ryan Tannehill’s life hell all game long.
Meanwhile, he was doing a fantastic job of setting the edge in the run game against a very good running opponent. That’s a crucial ability to develop as a young edge defender, and one he’s been more consistent with this year than his Smith brother counterparts.
If Gary can make the same leap from 2020 to 2021 as he did from 2019 to 2020, he will be a pro bowl player next year.
One guy to watch this week
Now that we’ve seen AJ Dillon feast in one cold-weather contest, I want to see how the Packers decide to use him in Chicago, especially when you consider Jamaal Williams is likely to be back in the lineup as well.
Dillon was a revelation on Sunday night. All season long he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of in limited snaps, and against the Titans, he proved he could translate that into a full game’s worth of football.
He’s exactly the kind of bruising back you want picking up steam when you’re heading into playoff football, and when you have home-field advantage in Green Bay, Wisconsin in January.
So assuming all three backs play, how do the Packers balance the use of Aaron Jones, Williams, and Dillon? Will we ever see all three on the field at the same time? Matt LaFleur mentioned the coaches met on Monday morning to discuss some fun possibilities of how they could get all of their talented backs involved, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see some interesting new wrinkles.
Two Minutes’ Hate: Chicago Bears Part II
This week, the Green Bay Packers get the honor of being the ones to officially end the Chicago Bears’ 2020 season. And I cannot think of a better way for this regular season to come to a close.
Bears fans are getting mighty full of themselves after a series of victories against… three awful teams (Texans, Vikings, Jaguars). But what’s hilarious about this three-week run of finally meeting minimum expectations is the fact that, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, there are starting to be rumblings that the Bears will keep Matt Nagy as head coach and seriously consider holding on to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback.
Talk about your all-time Christmas gifts! The Bears manage to collapse their season on a six-game losing streak, but then start playing just well enough that management starts to consider what should be the foregone conclusion of the canning of Nagy, Trubisky, and GM Ryan Pace all after this season. What more could you possibly ask for as a Packer fan?
If Bears management decides to bring any or all of these three back, I will send a fruit basket in gratitude to Virginia Halas McCaskey. I am 100 percent serious.
Outside of Trubisky, let’s talk about a couple of the other “weapons” the Bears have to work with.
It only took Nagy about 1.75 seasons for him to remember that the Bears drafted David Montgomery. Montgomery, who has always been a high-ceiling player, had that ceiling artificially lowered simply by virtue of being on the roster of the Chicago Bears, where offensive expectations go to die.
Meanwhile, Allen Robinson is about three Trubisky underthrows away from pulling a Vontae Davis and walking away at halftime. The dude cannot wait to get the hell out of Chicago, and yet it’s impossible to feel bad for the man, given he could have been playing in Green Bay and chose otherwise on his own.
Here’s the thing about Chicago sports.
When they’re bad, the entire city salivates over the opportunity to crucify them. Turn on local sports talk radio after any Bears loss, and you can hear the hosts gleefully shredding the team to bits. You hear the meathead call-ins insulting players and mispronouncing their names with feverish excitement. There is nothing Chicago sports fans love more than hating their teams.
On the rare occasions when they’re actually good, it’s never good enough. “The quarterback is awful!” “This isn’t a championship team!” “Why aren’t they winning by 50 every week!”
The only time when Chicago sports fans, and especially Bears fans, hype up their team is when they’re on the brink of being somewhat decent. To most savvy observers, the team might not be capable of reaching the playoffs and might, in fact, be quite dull to watch. But it’s at these moments where Bears fans truly take pride in puffing up their team, declaring them to be “disrespected” or “underrated” or whatever.
The unique thing about this 2020 season for the Bears is we’ve gotten to see all three of these fan personas come to life.
Given the fans can’t seem to decide how to feel about their team, it’s on me to tell it like it is. And so, here it is:
The fanbase is fickle and stupid. See above.
The team is boring and bad. Opposing fans are actively cheering for your coach and quarterback to get extended, and it might actually happen.
The only cultural relevance or touchstone the Bears have is a 30some-year-old SNL skit that was never funny in the first place, just like SNL itself has never been funny in the first place.
Despite your stadium being one of the most historic in pro sports, it is universally despised. It used to be cool until you hired a Halo-obsessed 11 year old to redesign it in the early 2000s to turn it into a spaceship crashed on top of ancient ruins. The field looks like Stanley Yelnats and Zero have been putting in a hard day’s work for Warden Walker.
Your team only ever gets prime time games because you play the Packers twice a year.
Your franchise peaked in the 1940s and everybody who was ever associated with the pinnacle of its success is dead.
Your greatest rivals only hate you out of a sense of obligation, not because they consider you to be anything close to a threat.
The best quarterback you’ve had in seven decades could be enshrined in the Green Bay Packers’ hall of fame and is also an anti-vaccer.
You’ve won five times in the last, like, 27 games against the Packers and most people would be surprised to hear it’s been that many.
Your team traded up to draft Mitch Trubisky at #2 when Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were available (that one will never get old).
Nobody cares about you.
Packers take out the trash again. Green Bay 34, Chicago 17