The 83-year-old former Chicago head coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end now calls Florida home, but his passion for Chicago and the Bears-Packers rivalry was evident in a phone interview this morning.
“I think it’s a very special rivalry,” Ditka said. I was fortunate to be a big part of it as a player and coach. I feel it’s the best rivalry in the NFL. Two great cities with great fans. I’m ready like everyone else and I’ll be watching.”
Green Bay leads the overall series, 105-95-6, and has dominated the last three decades with Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre at quarterback.
The two starting quarterbacks at Soldier Field Sunday afternoon have a lot to prove. A new era dawns in Green Bay with Jordan Love succeeding Rodgers, while Justin Fields enters his third season.
Ditka had the following thoughts on the 207th all-time meeting of two of the National Football League’s most storied franchises—the oldest rivalry in the league.
On Aaron Rodgers: “It’s hard to believe he’s a New York Jet and not a Packer. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen.”
On Justin Fields and Jordan Love: “Young quarterbacks. . . can be up and down. I had one with Jim McMahon. You take the good and the bad and they grow from it.”
On what it takes to win Sunday at Soldier Field: “Hey, I’m old school. Don’t turn the damn ball over and play really good defense. Stop the run.”
Ditka’s final thought: “Even without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers could beat the Bears if they (Chicago) don’t play solid defense. Expect a physical game. We’ll see what happens Sunday.”
The Green Bay offense will be missing its top receiving threat, as second-year receiver Christian Watson was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Losing Watson, a proven deep threat that can stretch defenses, doesn’t bode well for Matt LaFleur’s offense run by an inexperienced quarterback with a talented but inexperienced receiving corps.
Head coach Matt LaFleur said his team is ready to go without Watson, whose injury is “hopefully just week to week.”
“Well, we still had a whole week to kind of prepare for this,” LaFleur said Friday. “So, I wouldn’t say that would alter the (game) plan too drastically. I think any time you’re missing one of your better players, certainly throws a little curveball to it. But I mean, that happens all the time. Shoot, Chiefs had to deal with that last night.”
The Packers feature a potent 1-2 running punch of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon behind an experienced offensive line. Protecting the quarterback, running the football effectively, and pressuring the opposing QB are the keys to success for both teams. Fields’ explosiveness as a runner will be a challenge to contain for the Green Bay defense. As Coach Ditka is fond of saying, “Football games are won and lost in the trenches.”
Week 1 NFL Picks
Packers 20, Bears 17. Packers and Love find a way to grind out a division road win despite the absence of Watson as Packers defense forces multiple turnovers and Jones-Dillon produce 150+ yards on the ground. Fields will make some splash plays but also provide opportunities for takeaways.
NFC North Season Prediction
1st Detroit 11-6
2nd Minnesota 9-8
3rd Green Bay 8-9
4th Chicago 5-12