The Bears (7-9) will close the season by visiting the Packers (8-8) Sunday in Green Bay. Here are three things that should increase their chances of winning the game:
1) Continue to force turnovers.
The Bears' resurgence over the second half of the season has been fueled by a dramatic increase in takeaways. After mustering nine in their first 10 games, they've generated 18 takeaways in their last six contests, including 16 interceptions.
The Bears enter Week 18 leading the NFL with 22 interceptions. However, adding to that total Sunday won't be easy against Jordan Love, who has excelled in his first season as Green Bay's starting quarterback. The fourth-year pro has passed for 3,843 yards with 30 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 93.8 passer rating that ranks 11th in the NFL. In his last seven games, Love has thrown for 16 TDs and just one interception. He's posted a passer rating of at least 100 in three straight and six of his last seven starts. And he's only been sacked seven times in the last six games.
"It looks like he's very comfortable," said Bears coach Matt Eberflus. "The coaches have done a good job coaching the rhythm and timing of what they are asking him to do. They are on the same page with the receivers. You can feel that chemistry there. That's what I notice most. They are playing some good football, and we are too. We'll see where it goes."
Sunday's season finale will pit two longtime rivals who are playing their best football of the season, both having won five of their last seven games. The Bears have allowed an average of 15.2 points over their last five games after permitting 26.0 points over their first 11 contests, while Green Bay has scored 33 points each of the past two weeks in wins over the Panthers and Vikings.
Cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson, who is doubtful for Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, is tied for the team lead with four interceptions along with fellow cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Green Bay's most productive receivers are Jaylen Reed (60 receptions for 681 yards and eight TDs) and Romeo Dobbs (59-674-8). Christian Watson (28-422-5) has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury; he was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, but did not practice Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's contest.
(2) Produce explosive plays on offense.
The Bears generated a season-high seven pass completions of more than 20 yards in last Sunday's 37-17 win over the Falcons, with Justin Fields connecting for gains of 32, 32, 28, 23 and 21 yards to DJ Moore, 24 yards to Robert Tonyan and 24 yards to Roschon Johnson. It wasn't a coincidence that all six pass plays of at least 23 yards came on drives that resulted in touchdowns or field goals for an offense that matched a season high with four TDs.
Fields and the Bears will look to produce more splash plays against a Packers defense that ranks 14th in the NFL in points per game (21.3) and 21st in total yards per game (344.0). Green Bay typically plays a lot of zone coverage behind a fierce pass rush that features outside linebackers Rashan Gary (9.0 sacks) and Preston Smith (8.0) and defensive tackle Kenny Clark (6.5).
"That's the big thing that they do," said Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "They have an elite front. So you have this elite front that makes you not be able to hold the ball very long, and then you have these zone defenders; their eyes are on you and playing your game. That's what they play into.
"Timing and rhythm is critical when you play zone defenses like this. The rest of the guys have to be on too: violent to the tuck, drop-step, getting vertical, all that stuff, making sure we have good ball security. When you play these teams that have vision to the ball, the contact is going to be right away."
Last Sunday Fields threw for 268 yards and one TD with no turnovers and a 99.5 passer rating versus Atlanta. Not counting two Hail Mary passes that were picked off at the end of both halves Dec. 17 in Cleveland, the third-year pro has thrown just one interception in the six starts he's made since returning from a dislocated right thumb injury that sidelined him for four games.
Fields' top target this season has been Moore, who leads the Bears in all receiving categories with 92 catches for a career-high 1,300 yards and eight TDs. His 1,300 yards rank seventh in the NFL and are the fifth most by a receiver in Bears history.
The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall as they continue preparing to close out the 2023 season against the Packers in Green Bay.
3) Run the ball and stop the run.
It's an adage as old as football itself, but it still rings true—especially in what figures to be a bruising battle between the two longtime rivals.
The Bears head to Green Bay having produced their top two rushing performances of the season the past two weeks, gaining 250 yards against the Cardinals and 192 yards versus the Falcons. Running back Khalil Herbert– who is also questionable for Sunday's game with a back issue – rushed for 112 yards and one TD on 20 carries against Arizona and 124 yards and one TD on 18 attempts versus Atlanta.
While the Bears enter the final week of the regular season ranked second in the NFL in rushing, their run defense sits in the top spot in the league, yielding an average of only 84.0 yards per game. The unit will be challenged Sunday by Green Bay running backs AJ Dillon (178 carries for 613 yards and two TDs) and Aaron Jones (120-545-2).
"Jones is a really good, dynamic runner that can do a lot of different things," Eberflus said. "His cutting ability, his vision, his explosiveness is elite. We've seen it for a long time, and we see it against the opponents that he plays. And then having Dillon there as the 1-2 punch, he's very hard to bring down."
The Packers would clinch a playoff spot with a win Sunday, but the Bears still have plenty to play for despite being eliminated from postseason contention last weekend. With a victory at Lambeau Field, they would finish the season having won six of their last eight games and five of their last six—and snap a nine-game skid to Green Bay.
"I think it would mean a lot to the team, the fans, the city," Fields said. "I think it'd be great. We know Green Bay's playing for a lot, what's at stake. They're playing for a playoff spot right now, so I just think that with all of that on the table, it would be a great feeling to end the season with a win in Lambeau up there."