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Inbox: This is why you play the game

The Packers’ rookie class is made of the right stuff

TE Tucker Kraft
TE Tucker Kraft

Lori from Broomfield, CO

How does the team as a whole balance the enthusiasm, anticipation, and pressure with the focus of mental preparation and physical execution?

We're in the final leg of a marathon. Teams aren't as fresh as they were at the 13-mile mark, but some have more left in the tank than others. That's what makes this time of the year so special. It becomes a question of who wants it more and how much are you willing to sacrifice to outkick the opponent? Green Bay and Chicago…Week 18…this is why you play the game.

Mike from Charlotte, NC

When I consider what makes a playoff game different, I liken it to my golf game. The 18th hole at my favorite local course is a 600-plus-yard par-5. The feeling when stepping up to that one is just different than even the other par-5s on the course. You know you're in it for three shots. It's long with rolling terrain, and the uphill green is well protected. You have to be at your best to par it. You have to be better than your best to "win it" with a birdie. The Packers need the birdie.

I think I'd rather run a marathon. My golf ego couldn't handle the quad-bogey.

Barry from Green Bay, WI

Good morning II and welcome to what is essentially a pre-playoff playoff game. The rest of this season the Packers control their own destiny. Is the game plan this week to do whatever it takes to win, or do they keep some things under lock and key for their next opponent in the "real" playoffs? Your thoughts?

You gotta leave it all out on Lambeau Field this Sunday. I'm reminded of what offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said on Thursday about how the coaches threw everything on the table when the Packers were 4-6 entering Thanksgiving. For all intents and purposes, the Packers' season was on the line in Detroit, and they opened their full bag of offensive tricks. I think you have to do the same against the Bears. You can't hold back anything because the playoffs won't matter if the season ends on Sunday.

Michael from Baraboo, WI

What do the Packers have to do on offense, defense, and special teams to come out victorious on Sunday afternoon vs. the Bears?

Protect the ball, generate takeaways, and keep Chicago out of the end zone – and all three phases have a part to play in achieving those goals for Green Bay.

Joseph from Sioux Falls, SD

I had never really thought about how a less experienced QB could benefit less experienced WRs. Does having a smaller knowledge gap make it more likely that they are seeing the field the same way as they all continue to improve in that area? Or does growing together have a better feel in the locker room than when some are playing catch-up?

I don't think experience, or lack thereof, has anything to do with it. To me, it's developing camaraderie among teammates. Bo Melton talked in the locker room Thursday about how Jordan Love has been hosting the offense (and some defensive players) at his house on Mondays for dinner and film study. That's just one example of Love growing as both a quarterback and a leader. If the byproduct of that is the receivers seeing what Love is seeing, then all the better.

Lori from Brookfield, WI

Wes, many pundits are discussing the monetary incentives for Jordan Love and his young teammates as they fight for a playoff spot. How motivating is the money? What other inducements will impel this team to just beat the Bears?

It's not about money. It's about sending a message. It's letting Chicago and the rest of the NFL know Green Bay is still Titletown and the Packers are still the bar against which every other organization is measured. Money is important. It's the backbone of why I'm writing this very sentence. But when the calendar flips to January, football becomes about something more. This is for pride. This is for legacy…and Love and the Packers have an opportunity to write one heckuva chapter on Sunday.

Brian from Los Angeles, CA

Is it just me or have you noticed a new level of physicality with this offense? You can tackle me but I'm going to make you pay for it.

Reading your submission, I immediately thought of Tucker Kraft accelerating into defenders at the second level and Dontayvion Wicks dragging cornerbacks with him downfield. There's plenty of veterans willing to do the same, but I've been impressed with how the rookies have attacked it from Day 1. They're made of the right stuff.

Rich from Grand Rapids, MI

To further answer the question about QB footwork, the answer is "it depends." If a QB could always throw from the same motion and the same place (like a pitcher in baseball), more people could play QB. But they don't. Sometimes, they are moving – usually laterally, but sometimes backwards – such that the QB needs to leave his feet in order to torque the hips for power on the throw. Watch the hips and the pocket to help decide whether leaving his feet was bad footwork or necessary for zip on the throw.

The context of the play matters. If it's a standard five-step drop with minimal pressure, it's critical for the quarterback to have good mechanics to get the most out of that optimal look. But another sign of a QB's greatness is how he performs when an off-platform throw is required to make a play. That's where Aaron Rodgers was next level and I think Love is showing he also possesses those tools.

Dave from Fishers, IN

So, I remember four games back when we played the Giants and one of the questions was "is this a trap game?" The answer was there is no way that the players are looking past the Giants. I guess we laid an egg on that one. The team looked great last week against a tough opponent in a tough environment. I'm not too hamstrung on this because for me the main question for the season was about Love and that has been answered. But the question still lingers for this this another trap game?

The Packers aren't in a position for this to be a trap game. They're 8-8 and the Bears are 7-9. The difference between the two is as narrow as the outcome of the opener in Chicago. To prove they're a cut above, the Packers must play their brand of football and be victorious Sunday. It's one final opportunity for Green Bay to prove it is the team we thought it to be after beating Detroit and Kansas City.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Past success is not a predictor of future success. The Bears are an improved football team, but Packer Nation has a right to be optimistic. Reasons to believe: 1) Yes, the Packers have the Bears' number. Nine in a row, with Justin Fields 0-5 against GB. 2) The Packers' receivers are getting healthy, and ALL of these young weapons may be available on Sunday. 3) The defense roared against Minnesota, and they are capable of shutting down Fields. 4) Lambeau Field. 5) Playoff motivation. 6) Jordan Love.

The Packers have to keep it all going. It's a roulette wheel. You might think there's a better chance of hitting red after the ball lands on black nine times in a row, but the odds are still 49/49. Regardless, Green Bay can't worry about what has been. It must focus on what this current team needs to accomplish in the present.

Kevin from New Milford, CT

Looking at the injury report – barring any last-minute setbacks, it looks like we're going to be healthier than we have been for quite a while. It bodes well for the playoff run. I believe a healthy Packers squad is capable of surprising some folks.

I will say it is one of the healthiest 21-man injury reports I've ever seen.

Ray from Phoenix, AZ

I say Gute for GM of the year. Does any other team have as many rookies as possible or in-season pickups contributing more in 2023?

I'm not sure there's been any NFL team with this many rookies contributing since the NFL-AFL merger, but they don't make trophies for that. The Packers need a win on Sunday, not roses.

George from Edinburg, VA

Today, Mike wrote about taking a quarterback when you already have one. Surely it accelerates the development of any player to learn how to be a pro from a pro.

That was a core tenet of Ron Wolf's team-building philosophy and a strategy that's worked well in Green Bay. Sean Clifford has talked several times this year about everything he's learned from watching and learning from Love.

Miguel from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

How much of Jordan Love's success this season do you feel is because there is comparatively little "tape" out there on him?

Like right now? Zero. Love is playing the NFL's premier position and you have dozens of coaching staffs and pro personnel departments scouting him on a weekly basis. There are no secrets anymore. The success Love has enjoyed is a reflection of his development and evolution as a quarterback over the course of the year.

Steve from Ashland, WI

I wasn't sure, then I believed; I was disappointed; I believed again; I was disappointed. Do I dare believe again?

That's up to you. I can't dictate your feelings. But the fact the Packers are in this position with one of the league's youngest rosters suggests you probably should've never stopped believing in the first place.

Chris from Weston, WI

Mike told me that 2005 was the last time a Packers/Bears game was not played in primetime. With the relatively rough patch the Bears have been in during that span, it certainly speaks to the power of the Packers' brand and the great teams we have enjoyed. A win on Sunday would go a long way to keeping this franchise on that level.

Branding is important, but it's also been rare for the Packers and Bears to have down years simultaneously. Since 2000, only three times has neither Green Bay nor Chicago advanced to the playoffs (2008, 2017 and 2022).

Bryan from Madison, WI

One thing that stands out to me this season is how competitive the NFC North is. Given the win-loss for all the teams in each division, I think you could make a reasonable argument that the North is, on average, the strongest division in the NFC. Yes, the NFC East has PHI and DAL, but it also has WSH and NYG. I am likely oversimplifying, but all four clubs in the North have played good ball this year and generally seem to have their arrows pointing up. Long live the North.

It's always been this way. People bad-mouth the NFC North and yet the division regularly sends two teams to playoffs (even in the previous six-team postseason format). Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, and eight wins was enough to win the division in 2013. That remains the only season since the 2002 division realignment that the NFC North produced a champion with single-digit wins. The NFC East has done it four times since 2011, while a losing team has won the NFC South twice in the last decade.

Joel from Green Lake, WI

In reply to the offensive line looking like a ballet, in one of the books by '60s Packer players, it was noted that a number of the first steps in Lombardi's plays were as precise as a dance. Completely different era, but it was also stated that they went into a game with basically 10 plays (five running, five passing), with variations of each and a few special plays specific for that opponent. The Pack's success happened because of the perfection implemented in each play and Bart Starr's play-calling.

The game has changed, but technique and fundamentals are as important today as they've ever been.

The Green Bay Packers held practice at Clarke Hinkle Field on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024.

Mike from Orange City, IA

Will you be trying a new QB next year?

Yeah. Jalen Hurts was a poor choice for my 6-11 fantasy team. I needed to draft a receiver or tight end in that spot and take a different quarterback in the eighth or ninth round. I went against my general philosophy and paid for it. I hope I answered your question.

Megan from Noblesville, IN

Medical terms for knee injuries the last 10 years have been ACL, MCL, and any other letter you can put in front of "CL." Back in the day, wasn't the medical term for these "CL" injuries called a "blown knee" (he blew his knee out)?

I miss covering hockey, a sport in which injuries are categorized in two ways – upper body or lower body.

Ritt from Andover, MN

Friday's NYT "spelling bee" did not accept the pangram "Hodlike." Do those editors not know what much of Packerdom aspires to be? Go Hod Go.

That should be worth at least a triple-word score.

John from Jupiter, FL

Morning Wes. When you two fine gentlemen are writing II, do you go through all submissions and then pick those to fill it? Or do you fill as you go and stop when you have enough for that day's column? Thanks

The answer is yes, but I'll leave it to your imagination to guess who does it which way.

Kurt from Sartell, MN

Mike wears silk pajamas? Wow, just when you think you know a guy…

It's funny how a promotion to "Editor" can change a person.

Andy from Walpole, MA

Not really a question but more like a modest suggestion. Can we organize an II celebration for the Pack making it into the playoffs at Saad's place? If you haven't been there, Santiago Atitlán is among the most beautiful places on earth.

I'll have Spoff's people talk to Saad's people.

Hannes from Glendale, WI

Wes, I think I noticed a trend with Mike mentioning your lunch more often than usual this week. Has he been going hungry? Did you better disguise your coverage as the regular season progressed? Certainly, something to keep an eye on if we do make it to the postseason.

It's not a coincidence. There hasn't been a Friday staff lunch in three weeks. We've nearly run out of Saltines and Ritz.

Bob from Rome, NY

Wes: I hope I am yelling "Yeet" at about 6:30 p.m. CST Sunday!

I'm not a big yeeter, but I hope to be busting out my playoff chain around the same time.

Dean from Leavenworth, IN

The horn silenced, and the flame burns bright
Our hands clutching a playoff berth, but the job not finished
Playoffs! Playoffs? Yes, we're talking playoffs
Now back on the frozen tundra facing your biggest rival in the season's biggest game
A much-improved Bears team looking to spoil the party at Lambeau
We remember one year ago and now's the time to show this team is a different team
It must be earned. There's no next week without victory this week, Green and Gold

There's only one thing left to do – sit back and watch where the rest of the chips fall. Enjoy the game, everybody.

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