The Chicago Bears will host the rival Green Bay Packers Sunday to open the 2023 NFL season.
The Bears have been on the wrong side of the rivalry for the last decade-plus, where they’ve gone 3-23 dating back to 2011. That includes an eight-game losing streak, which Chicago last defeated Green Bay in Dec. 2018.
But Sunday’s opener presents an opportunity for the Bears to get on the right side of the rivalry as a new chapter begins. Aaron Rodgers is now with the New York Jets, and it’s Jordan Love time in Green Bay.
Before Sunday’s season opener, Bears Wire sat down with Packers Wire managing editor Zach Kruse to “reintroduce a rival” and help highlight what’s new with the Packers heading into the 2023 season.
Zach Kruse: The final year of the Aaron Rodgers era was nothing if not a rollercoaster. The Packers started 3-1, lost in London to start a futile 1-7 stretch, got back into the playoff race with four straight wins and then lost at home to the Lions with a playoff spot on the line in the season finale. A final chance to make a Super Bowl run with the future Hall of Famer under center looked possible to start the season but never materialized, thanks in part to a young receiver corps, a frustratingly inconsistent defense and a lingering thumb injury suffered by Rodgers in London. At one point, the Packers were 4-8. An 8-9 finish meant no playoffs for the first time in the Matt LaFleur era.
ZK: Let’s start with the obvious: quarterback. Gone is Aaron Rodgers, who led the Packers to a 25-5 record in 30 career starts against the Bears. In is Jordan Love, who has all of 83 career regular season passes and has never faced the Bears. The Packers are hoping three years of developing behind Rodgers will give Love, a first-round pick in 2020, an opportunity to hit the ground running as a first-year starter. The offense around him is young, especially in the passing game. While the Packers still have terrific running backs and a rock-solid offensive line, the offense has an incredible nine first- or second-year players at wide receiver or tight end, including rookies Jayden Reed, Luke Musgrave, Dontayvion Wicks, Tucker Kraft and Ben Sims. The defense looks mostly the same, although defensive linemen Devonte Wyatt and TJ Slaton, slot cornerback Keisean Nixon and safety Rudy Ford will be now be featured players. Big changes arrived on special teams, where rookie Anders Carlson replaces Mason Crosby at kicker, first-year player Daniel Whelan replaces former Bear Pat O’Donnell at punter and former Ram Matt Orzech replaces Jack Coco at long snapper.
What's the same
ZK: Despite all the personnel changes, the Packers are still running the same offense, same defense and same special teams under playcallers Matt LaFleur (offense), Joe Barry (defense) and Rich Bisaccia (special teams) as last season, so big schematic changes aren’t expected. The foundation is mostly intact, too. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Elgton Jenkins, running back Aaron Jones, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas give the Packers a strong, veteran core. Bears fans will remember second-year receiver Christian Watson, who came alive during the second half of last season and provided the dagger score during the Packers’ December win at Soldier Field, but Watson is dealing with a hamstring injury and might not play.
Newcomers to know
ZK: Jordan Love isn’t a newcomer, but he’s new on the scene as a first-year starter at the game’s most important position. While it’s easy to overvalue the preseason, Love did look poised and in command over three exhibition starts. In terms of additions, the Packers did little in free agency, and one of their free-agent signings, safety Tarvarius Moore, didn’t make the team, so most of the newcomers are draft picks. First-round pick Lukas Van Ness will be a backup edge rusher who might rotate in on obvious passing downs, but his role might be limited in Year 1. Both second-round picks, tight end Luke Musgrave and receiver Jayden Reed, will be primary targets in the passing game right away. Musgrave is a starter, and Reed is the No. 1 option in the slot. Third-round pick Tucker Kraft will get snaps as a do-it-all tight end, fourth-round pick Colby Wooden and sixth-round pick Karl Brooks will rotate in along the defensive line, sixth-round pick Anders Carlson will handle field goals and extra points, and seventh-round pick Carrington Valentine is the top backup option at cornerback.
ZK: While tempted to call this season a “rebuilding year” in Green Bay, I prefer the term “transition year.” The Packers are saddled with almost $60 million in dead money on the salary cap after trading away Aaron Rodgers, and the new-look offense has a first-year starting quarterback and inexperienced players all over the passing game. This team needs to get financially healthy while allowing space for a young offense to grow together. All that said, there is legitimate talent on the Packers roster. Running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon and five returning starters along the offensive line should be best friends to Jordan Love, who knows the offense inside and out and should be expected to play at a level higher than a typical first-year starter. The defense is loaded with high draft picks and veterans, especially at edge rusher and cornerback. In a weak division and facing a weak schedule, the Packers have a shot. But the defense must lead the way early while the offense gets up to speed, and Matt LaFleur’s team will need a few lucky bounces here and there. Given the inexperience and unknowns but also the overall talent, a finish for the Packers between 6-11 and 10-7 feels likely.