Packers, Bears are franchises going in different directions
Jay Hodgson, Packers contributor
Jay Cutler getting sacked by Packers defenders in 2012. Photo: Image by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
This week is another renewal of the historic Packers vs. Bears clash. It’s one of the oldest rivalries in all sports, and it means many things to the various fans out there.
The rivalry may not mean the same today as it did 20 years ago, but the Monday night match up highlights the state of each franchise.
In fact, each franchise is going in different directions.
Back in 2010, each team was on near-equal footing when they squared off in the NFC Championship game.
A lot has changed since then.
Let’s take a look at how and what it all means.
According to USA Today, the Packers have the sixth youngest roster in the NFL, whereas the Bears have the fourth oldest.
This highlights the different roster maintenance that each team’s general manager chooses.
Ted Thompson prefers to draft, develop, and retain his key players.
The Bears like to make splashes with free agency and high-profile trades, including starters Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Julius Peppers, and Jermon Bushrod.
Thompson’s draft and develop strategy ensures an influx of young talent to the roster each year.
However, the Bears are an aging team, especially on defense. They just lost Brian Urlacher to retirement and Lance Briggs is showing his age and his wear and tear.
Also, by continuously drafting young players, the Packers are usually in excellent salary cap shape.
This allows them to stock the roster with quality backups, which surely come in handy when the injury bug bites.
However, when a team loads up on high-priced free agents, there must be tradeoffs somewhere.
Usually, it comes at the expense of depth and young players used to replace retiring legends.
When you think about the Packers vs. Bears rivalry, how could you not think of all those legendary Bears’ defenses?
Dick Butkus. Mike Singletary and the 1985 Bears.
All through the 2000's, the Bears had stout defenses lead by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Teams always had a near impossible time running against the Monsters of the Midway.
On the other hand, the Packers have not always been known for their defenses.
They may have had quality, sometimes Hall-of-Fame-caliber defenses through the years, but the Packers have usually been known for how they put up points.
The current state of the Packers’ and Bears’ defenses are showing a transition.
Currently, the Packers have the 11th overall team defense and rank 4th overall against the run.
The Bears, in contrast, rank 27th overall and 25th against the run.
Here, roster age clearly show their differences.
The younger Packers have been in better shape with depth and injury replacement. You can thank Ted Thompson for his keen eye for talent and shrewd salary cap management.
The Bears have always been known as a rushing team.
Mike Ditka lead them to a Super Bowl victory on the legs of Walter Payton.
Lovie Smith got to the Super Bowl in spite of their quarterback, Rex Grossman.
For the last 20-plus years, the Packers have been known for their quarterback prowess and prolific passing game.
Now, these roles are beginning to switch.
The Bears’ new coach, Marc Trestman, wants his offense to pass the ball and highlight the talents of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
You could say Trestman’s transition has gone fairly well.
Currently, the Bears rank 10th overall in team offense, while ranking 11th overall passing and 14th overall rushing.
The Packers have been going through a little bit of an offensive transition themselves.
Due to injuries, the Packers have begun to rely more heavily on their emerging running game.
Currently, the Packers rank 2nd overall in team offense, while ranking 5th overall passing and 3rd overall rushing.
Once upon a time, it was inconceivable the Packers would be a better rushing team than the Bears, but numbers never lie.
What does this all mean?
The Packers and the Bears are clearly on different trajectories.
The Bears are in rebuilding mode and trying to establish a new identity, while the Packers are preparing for, hopefully, another serious playoff push.
The Packers are in great salary cap shape and the Bears will have to make some tough decisions with key players, especially with Jay Cutler being in a contract year.
Ted Thompson has stocked the stable with relatively young and inexpensive players, whereas the Bears are an aging team with several top-heavy contracts.
More importantly, the Packers are appearing to be getting healthier.
Several key players have already made their returns, and several others are poised to return in the next couple of weeks.
On the other hand, the Bears aren’t getting any younger this year.
According to the betting lines, the Packers currently rank 5th in the odds to win the Super Bowl (10-1) while the Bears rank 14th (100-1).
In case you’re wondering, the New York Giants, who are 2-6, also have 100-1 odds to win the Super Bowl.
The odds are clearly in favor of the Packers, which highlight the two different paths these teams are on. It doesn’t diminish the importance of this game or the intensity of the rivalry.
A victory over the Bears Monday night will be the signifying stamp of two very different teams with different postseason possibilities.
(Yardage statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.)