With their playoff hopes on life support for at least one more week, the 2018 Packers have, however improbably, ensured they will be playing meaningful football in week 15 when they take on the Chicago Bears for the 198th time in team history. And while the prospect of reaching the postseason may seem like a slim-to-none proposition, Green Bay has plenty to play for—and to prove—when they step on to Solider Field Sunday afternoon.
For starters, there are those distant dreams of sneaking into the playoffs. By now, you’ve probably seen the graphics and summaries making the rounds, explaining that the Packers can still qualify for the postseason by winning their final three games and getting some help from the teams currently ahead of them in the race. Specifically, the Panthers, Eagles and Redskins must all lose one game apiece, while the Vikings would have to lose two of their last three. An 0-3 finish by Seattle in that scenario would also get the Packers in, though the odds of that happening may be slimmer than Green Bay’s actual playoff odds.
Some would say there are just too many things that need to break the Packers’ way, while others would say the most unlikely occurrence in the entire scenario is that they’ll be able to win their final three games, especially this week’s contest against a Bears team who just held the high-flying L.A. Rams without a touchdown.
On paper, it’s a daunting matchup for sure, and even more so when you consider the Packers have yet to win a road game this season. When you consider how good the Bears defense has looked recently, it makes Green Bay’s comeback from a 20-point deficit in the second half of the opening week matchup look even more impressive. Aaron Rodgers and the Packer offense will be out to prove they’ve still got that kind of performance in them, even if they haven’t shown in consistently.
Realistically, though, it is silly to discuss the playoffs unless the Packers are able to knock off the Bears. In the meantime, there are a lot of eyes on the future of the roster, and the franchise in general.
Green Bay showed there is still some fight in the tank last week against Atlanta, winning their first game under interim head coach Joe Philbin. Perhaps the abrupt firing of Mike McCarthy lit a fire under some of the more senior members of the team, as the Packers’ brass seems intent on making changes in any area they perceive as not performing up to standards. There likely are veterans on the team—Randall Cobb and Clay Matthews immediately come to mind—who are feeling a little heat in terms of their futures in Green Bay. It certainly could be that Brian Gutekunst has already made up his mind on some of those players, but a strong finish to the season would say a lot about who wants to stick around and who doesn’t.
As for those players who aren’t established veterans, these last three weeks will serve as a proving ground for who the Packers can trust to be a part of the next core of talent. A guy like Jaire Alexander, successful as his rookie campaign has been, can heighten his trajectory even more, while fellow rookie Josh Jackson can build on a rather disappointing year. Aaron Jones can establish himself further as the number one back, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown can earn more targets. No matter the roster status, every single player on Green Bay’s roster has more to prove.
More than anything, though, what the final three games come down to is pride. Whether it’s personal, professional, or whatever else, no one in the Packers’ organization wants to go out with a whimper in 2018. Much has been written over the past week and change about how much pride Mike McCarthy had in being the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, right up until the moment he was let go. The players he coached would do well to follow his example and build on that pride, and what better way to do so than beating their most familiar rival?
Top photo: Benny Sieu/USA Today sports