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Inbox: Expect the unexpected

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Pete from Eau Claire, WI

Wes, I was doing some grocery shopping today and while perusing the meat dept. products I found something right up your alley: Pumpkin Spice Bratwurst, made by Festival Foods...I blame you!

Oh, you know I’ve already had a few. They’re fantastic. Good morning!

Ken from New York, NY

Sometimes even a healthy plant needs a good cutback in order to spur vibrant new growth. Beginning with the Bears, we'll begin to get a sense of how much of that the Packers are going to need.

I like this game given the high stakes for both teams. Plus, it’s also a measuring stick for the Packers to see how they stack up against one of the NFL’s top young teams. It’s never easy to go on the road in the NFC North and win, but the Packers have fared well at Soldier Field during the Aaron Rodgers era. We’re about to learn a lot – about the Packers and the Bears.

Ken from Racine, WI

I've always been of the opinion that a team's best chance for success is to sort of go against the pregame narrative that the pundits are putting out. Since the story everyone is focused on this week is the strong Bear defense against our Rodgers-led offense, I think the Pack's best strategy would be to play their most aggressive defense of the year this week. Do you agree that seemed to work against the Falcons? And do you think Mitchell Trubisky can be knocked off his game this way?

That’s a great point. As much as the narrative this week will revolve around Chicago’s defense and Khalil Mack, I could see this game being more about how Mike Pettine handles Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears’ offense. The Packers gave up 139 rushing yards and a 5.1-yard average to Chicago in the first meeting, but they also sacked Trubisky four times and limited him to only 171 passing yards. They need to do that again.

Lori from Brookfield, WI

Wes, would you please let Coach Philbin know professional-play whisperers hide behind the giant play card or their hand when calling in the next play?

That was the first question Philbin was asked at his Monday news conference. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about it.

Braden from Aurora, CO

I would have to agree with Mike. If you look at the Bears’ opponents, only Seattle, LAR, and the Bills rank in the top half of offensive rushing yards. Most recently the Giants committed to running the ball and coming up with timely big plays or turnovers. Who on the Packers do you think is most likely to make a big play to sway the momentum in our favor to allow Joe Philbin to stick to the run game on offense? I would go with Jaire on defense as he's now shadowing the top guy and seems due.

I see this game being about depth. The Bears are deep on both sides of the ball and the Packers need to match them in that regard. Chicago has a hole at nickel cornerback now with Bryce Callahan injured, so that could be a big opportunity for Randall Cobb or whoever roams into the slot. I could throw out a half dozen other “factors” I see contributing to the outcome, but the biggest thing I’ve learned from this rivalry is to expect the unexpected – even this late in the season. I’ve seen Clay Matthews play inside linebacker, Jordy Nelson line up in the slot and Ty Montgomery play running back over the past five years alone.

Steven from Silver Spring, MD

Under Rodgers, we have had historic levels of success against the Bears even when they were favored and appeared to be the better team going in. The Bears dominated the Rams defensively using a pass rush led by Hicks and Mack. But the fact is they had that same front in Week 1 against us, and while it did dominate the first half just like the Rams game, we turned it around in the second half. What about the Bears’ defense has changed since Week 1? Did the Rams not adjust?

Vic Fangio’s defense has only gotten better since Week 1 for two reasons in my mind – Mack getting more comfortable in the scheme and the Bears staying healthy. There isn’t a single defensive player on the injury report this week after Callahan was placed on IR. I think the key for the Packers is getting off to a fast start because lightning probably won’t strike twice on the road if they fall behind 17-0 at halftime again – not with how well Chicago’s defense is playing right now.

The Packers were back at practice Wednesday before Sunday's NFC North matchup with the Chicago Bears.

Mike from Toronto, Ontario

One INT through Week 14 is pretty ridiculous. Has an NFL starting QB ever gone a full season with no interceptions? Can Rodgers do it next season?

No quarterback with more than 350 pass attempts in a season has ever done it. The closest a QB has come is Tom Brady in 2016 when he threw two picks. So Rodgers would be making some more history if he keeps his shutout streak going three more weeks.

David from El Segundo, CA

I was thinking about the "lucky" part of AR's passes-without-an-interception record and remember noticing that two or three of the near-picks bounced off of the chest protector of the DB. Could this just be due to the fact that Rodgers zings the ball with such velocity that only the receivers who consistently work with him are prepared to catch when it requires improvisation? Or does AR have a rabbit’s foot in his back pocket?

That’s one (more) benefit to having a rocket for an arm.

Kyle from Eden Prairie, MN

The level of parity in the NFL this year is simply fantastic, and Week 14 was perhaps the finest example. Although we all hope the playoffs hold a spot for the Packers this year, isn’t the best part that literally every team in the NFC has a respectable shot at running the table to the playoffs?

That’s why – for my money – the NFL is the best sports organization in the United States. The parity, beginning with the free-agent system, makes it possible for every team to compete on a yearly basis. The Bears are a perfect example. A year ago, they went through a coaching change and so much turmoil. Within a span of 12 months, they’re contenders.

Griffin from Belmont, NC

Do you see the league evolving on how teams draft QBs? Seems like the current trend is draft a QB on a cheap salary and build around him. Can this be successful if a team trades away multiple picks for their QB in the draft? (e.g., the Bears).

Sure, but fewer swings at the plate also means you better get a hit fast. I know this is a popular debate topic, but I still don’t see a correlation between drafting a cheap quarterback and winning a Super Bowl. Yes, the Seahawks accomplished this feat, but it also came courtesy of one of the best defenses this generation has ever seen. The salary cap has jumped significantly in recent years. If you handle your business properly, you can afford elite quarterbacks. The problem is when you start paying good quarterbacks elite money.

Mike from Chaska, MN

We beat the Bears in the first game of the year in the second half with an injured Aaron Rodgers by using short, quick passes to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb to eliminate the pass rush. Remember Cobb’s long TD was a short quick pass. Do it again with the most accurate passer in history! Thoughts?

That second half was vintage Rodgers and arguably his best game of the season when you factor in the knee injury. All three of the Packers’ receivers – Cobb, Adams and Geronimo Allison – had at least five catches, one reception of at least 39 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay obviously has lost Allison, but gains Aaron Jones for this second matchup…oh and Jake Kumerow.

Lauren from Sparta, WI

I know Jake Kumerow has had injuries and not played much, but based on his preseason performance, I think this guy is a player and I hope the Packers see to keeping him. Your thoughts?

Speak of the Jesus. Kumerow doesn’t even have an accrued season, which means the Packers control his rights for three more years. He isn’t going anywhere this offseason.

Matt from Waunakee, WI

Does the head coaching change keep the Packers off “Hard Knocks”?

Correct.

Dick from Four Oaks, NC

Think I’m noticing a trend here. Byron Bell goes on IR and we sign Nico Siragusa. Any relation to Tony? Brian Gutekunst seems to be churning the bottom of the roster. If it were earlier in the year, maybe Bell and some of the others stay on the active roster. Not complaining. I think it’s a great way to get an extended look at some talent that might help in the future without really affecting this year. Who knows? We might find a diamond in the rough. I think it’s smart! Go Pack Go!

That’s the life of NFL GMs in December. There’s a small window to get players back on the field, which leads to more changes on the 53-man roster. The only difference with Gutekunst is he’s been very active on the waiver wire this year in claiming contracts (i.e. Siragusa, Natrell Jamerson and Fadol Brown). Also, Nico is not related to Tony.

Bruce from Green Bay, WI

Is Byron Bell the only offensive lineman to not have been penalized this year? Also, have there been many players on the Packers to accomplish such solid play and not been penalized?

Neither Bell nor Corey Linsley has had an accepted penalty against him this season, according to NFLPenalties.com. In fact, Linsley didn’t have a penalty at all until that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Brian Poole’s hit on Aaron Rodgers (which may or may not have belonged to Lucas Patrick).

Joe from Dundee, IL

Would Eliot Wolf even consider the Oakland GM job with Gruden's reputation? I think the only type of GM that Oakland really needs is a cap expert. Or would someone accept being a GM will little power in Oakland as a stepping stone to a "real" GM opening down the road with another team?

I know there are deep ties between his father and the Raiders, but I’d be surprised to see Eliot taking that job after what happened with McKenzie. Honestly, I’d be stunned if the Raiders give their next personnel executive the traditional title of GM after everything that’s happened. I could see them going more the route of a director of player personnel like the Patriots have under Bill Belichick.

Bryan from Oshkosh, WI

I seem to remember a certain Packer team in 2006 that was sitting at 4-8 with a month left. There were a lot of questions around that team (including at HC and QB). Hard to ignore the similarities with this team. That team won their last four games and carried momentum all the way to 13-3 and an NFC Championship the next year in 2007. Even if playoffs are out of reach this year, how real would any momentum be for next year in 2019?

I think you answered your own question. It’s real, and if recent history is any indication, it’s spectacular.

Trevor from Carmel, NY

I get a kick out of people trying to compare seasons. 2010? Yeah right. 2006? Maybe. But if you held me down, I'd order up some 2003 with just a tad of 1995 sprinkled on top. Maybe it's the memory of fans inside Lambeau scoreboard watching. Maybe it's the insane amount of help we got the last two weeks. Maybe it's the hope that, somewhere out there, there's a Thigpen or a Poole getting ready to burst on the scene. Buckle up folks, if they beat the Bears, this could get good in a hurry.

Isn’t late-season drama great? And in most cases, you never see that “Thigpen” or “Poole” moment coming. As I said Tuesday, if the Packers find a way to win in Chicago Sunday, they suddenly become the team nobody wants to play. A lot of marbles on the line at Soldier Field.

Bryant from Hanover, MD

The Los Angeles Chargers have been announced as a team that will have an international "home" game next year. Have to think that will be against the Packers, right?

Not necessarily. This is a very complicated case, Bryant. You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's. And, uh, lotta strands to keep in my head, man. We should know more later this month.

Tristan from Durham, NC

I had to use a dinner plate to shovel snow off my car on Monday, and had trouble navigating that whole “ice on the roads” thing this morning. I clearly don't know how to survive in the snow, let alone play football in it. As a Wisconsinite, what's your secret to making it through winter? Also, if running the ball is a fundamental skill for a cold-weather game, how do they run on snow?

I’ve always felt gripping the football is what challenges ball carriers more than footing in cold-weather games. Unless it’s a blizzard, most NFL teams do a decent job of keeping the field in playable condition.

Michael from Dover, PA

What a week for “Play of the Year” highlights! In any normal week Amari Cooper’s catch in OT is the winner, but that goes after Derrick Henry’s 99-yard “shove-‘em-all-outta-the-way” run, but that’s behind Patrick Mahomes’ fourth-and-9 toss ACROSS his body into quadruple coverage on a dime to Tyreek Hill, but even that gets trumped by the Miracle in Miami. That’s why we watch every week! (And read II every day!)

It was one heck of a week…and the next one is almost here.

Sergio from Minden, NV

"The call on the field shouldn’t matter anymore. Why give such credence to clearly unreliable decisions? Call what is seen on the replay. Period." The song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” immediately began playing in my head.

And rightfully so.

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