Green Bay Packers' Davante Adams (17) celebrates a touchdown with teammates during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
As poorly as things have gone for the Chicago Bears over the last month, they have a chance to close November by getting right back in the thick of the NFC North race.
If the Bears don't capitalize on the opportunity, the Green Bay Packers will head into December well on their way to clinching a second straight division title.
Chicago (5-5) has lost four straight and trails the Packers (7-3) by two games as the teams renew the NFL's oldest rivalry Sunday night at Green Bay.
''We're fighters,'' Bears running back David Montgomery said. ''So if anybody's counting us out, that's fine. But we're fighters, so we're going to keep fighting.''
The Packers have their own issues.
After racing to a 4-0 start, the Packers have split their last six games. Green Bay has struggled lately at home with the pandemic preventing the Packers from allowing any fans to games.
In their last two home games, the Packers lost 28-22 to the Minnesota Vikings and eked out a 24-20 victory over the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars. The Packers are back at Lambeau Field after blowing a two-touchdown halftime lead in a 34-31 overtime loss at Indianapolis.
But the Packers still could gain a commanding three-game division lead by winning Sunday night in the first of two regular-season meetings between these teams. The Packers and Bears meet again Jan. 3 in Chicago to close the regular season.
''We're on Sunday night football, it's the only game playing at that time, it's a divisional rival against the Bears and it's a huge game in our division,'' Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. ''If you're not pumped up for this one, then I don't know what to say to you.''
This game features another quarterback change for the Bears.
Mitchell Trubisky was benched in favor of Nick Foles during the Bears' third game and later injured his right shoulder. Trubisky now will get another chance to lead the Bears' offense after Foles injured his hip and glute in the Bears' last game, a 19-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 16.
Bears coach Matt Nagy confirmed Friday that Trubisky will start. Nagy said it was too early to tell whether this move could last beyond this week and that he's focusing only on the Green Bay game for now.
''Right now we're excited that Mitch is ready, and it's an opportunity for him,'' Nagy said. ''I know for Nick, with him being doubtful and his not being able to be out here at practice, it's frustrating, but that's a part of this game, and he's been supportive with the other quarterbacks all week long.''
The Packers rank among the NFL's most efficient teams in third-down situations. They are converting on 47.9% of their third-down attempts. Only Las Vegas, Kansas City and Buffalo have better third-down percentages.
Chicago is allowing its opponents to convert only 33.3%, giving the Bears the NFL's best third-down defense. Packers coach Matt LaFleur says this will be the toughest defense Green Bay has faced.
''Khalil Mack is a game wrecker,'' LaFleur said. ''You better know where he's at on every snap because, you know, he's got the ability just by himself to go wreck whatever you're trying to do.''
RODGERS REIGNS OVER BEARS
While the Bears have an uncertain quarterback situation heading into Sunday's game, they'll have to beat a two-time MVP quarterback who has dominated this series throughout his career.
Green Bay owns a 19-5 record against the Bears in games Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has started.
SPECTATORS AT LAMBEAU
This will mark the Packers' first home game with any spectators at all.
Packers officials have announced that team employees and their family members - about 500 people in all - will be in the stands to test out Lambeau Field COVID-19 protocols in case paying fans are allowed at home games later this season.
Montgomery sat out one game with a concussion but is expected to play Sunday night. Montgomery has rushed for a team-high 472 yards on 131 carries.
That's a big addition for a team that severely lacks running back depth. Without Montgomery available, wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson had 12 of the Bears' 17 carries in the Vikings game.
BEARS' RECORD RETURNER
Patterson scored on a 104-yard kickoff return against the Vikings, enabling him to tie an NFL record with eight such touchdowns in his career. He shares the record with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington.
Patterson, of course, can have the record all to himself if he scores on a kickoff return at Green Bay. The Packers have struggled on special teams lately, though their issues haven't involved kickoff coverage. Darrius Shepherd fumbled on a kickoff return at Indianapolis. One week earlier, the Packers allowed Jacksonville's Keelan Cole to score on a franchise-record 91-yard punt return.
Interview with a Champ
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) said that he has been cleared from the league's concussion protocol, which makes him good to go for the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. He was on the practice field on Friday, and head coach Andy Reid said that Mahomes took all of the snaps in Wednesday's practice and most of them on Thursday. The All-Pro signal-caller didn't actually suffer a blow to the head when he was forced to leave the Divisional Round against the Browns, so it was expected all along that he'd be available this weekend. The 25-year-old might be a tad bit more risky given his high DFS price against Buffalo, but Mahomes should be all systems go and has as much upside as any QB this weekend among Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Josh Allen.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are officially activating defensive tackle Vita Vea (leg) from Injured Reserve on Friday, and he will be eligible to play in the NFC Championship game against the Packers on Sunday, according to a source. Vea has been out of action since fracturing his leg in Week 5, but he'll be in the trenches for Tampa's strong defensive front in an effort to slow down quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. Rakeem Nunez-Roches has been holding down the fort at defensive tackle with Vea out this year. We wouldn't be surprised if Vea is limited in how many snaps he can play in his first game back, though, so don't be surprised if Nunez-Roches continues to play a big role. Either way, it's a slight upgrade for a Buccaneers Defense that has a tall task ahead of them at Lambeau Field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) has been ruled out for the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Brown's knee injury that he suffered in the divisional round win over the Saints wasn't deemed serious- though he was unable to take the practice field on Wednesday and Thursday. While head coach Bruce Arians said that his star wideout wouldn't need to practice to play, he also noted this morning that the knee would swell from the team's flight to Green Bay, so playing him wouldn't make much sense. Fellow wideouts Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller will take on a larger role in the offense. Miller makes for a potential value DFS play, as he and Tom Brady showcased the ability to make big plays down the field earlier this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Vance McDonald announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday. McDonald was a second-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2013. He spent four years with the Niners before being traded to Pittsburgh shortly before the 2017 season. McDonald played in 101 career games (77 starts) and finished with 181 catches for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns. In his four years with the Steelers, McDonald reeled in 117 passes for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns in 53 games (47 starts). His best season came in 2018, when he caught 50 passes for 610 yards (12.2 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. The 30-year-old dealt with his fair share of injuries in eight seasons. His retirement will save the team $5.2 million in salary cap space heading into the 2021 season.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' (foot, shoulder) wife Brittany revealed that the 42-year-old signal-caller was playing through a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot. "He's as courageous and as tough a player as I've ever been around," head coach Sean Payton said, via The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Brees' injuries likely played a part in his struggles pushing the ball downfield, and he threw three interceptions in what will be the final game of his storied career in the Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers. He has yet to make his retirement official, but it's expected to come eventually, especially after playing through other injuries that we didn't know about. If this is the end, Brees will go down in NFL history as one of the greatest to ever play the position.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams led the NFL with 23 red zone receptions and 14 red zone touchdowns in 2020, and his 46 red zone touchdowns since 2016 are 17 more than any other player.
Fantasy Spin: Adams led the NFL with 18 receiving touchdowns, tied for second with 115 receptions and finished in a tie for fifth in receiving yards. His status as the unquestioned go-to target for Aaron Rodgers should continue to make him one of the safest fantasy options at any position for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry led all running backs with 75 forced missed tackles this season, and his 1,490 rushing yards after contact were the most in the league.
Fantasy Spin: Henry has been a fantasy monster since Ryan Tannehill took over as the Tennessee quarterback. His massive workload will likely take a toll at some point, but there is no reason he shouldn't deliver another RB1 campaign in 2021.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with 1,242 yards on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield during the 2020 season.
Fantasy Spin: Rodgers also led the league in touchdown passes in a season that could net him MVP honors for the third time and a second Super Bowl ring. After seeing his numbers dip a bit the last couple of years, he is back in the mix of top-five fantasy options at the quarterback position heading into next season.
Things are trending in the right direction for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) to play in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday. Mahomes was limited in practice for the second straight day on Thursday and took the majority of the snaps on offense, a good sign that he didn't suffer a setback after practicing on Wednesday. The hope is that he's a full participant in practice on Friday, which means he'd likely be on his way toward being cleared from the league's protocol before Sunday. The 25-year-old former MVP will be a tad more risky at his elevated DFS price against Buffalo coming off a head injury that knocked him out of the Divisional Round game against the Browns, but Mahomes should put up numbers in what could be a high-scoring affair this weekend as long as he doesn't suffer another head injury.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to hire Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator, according to sources. Several teams were trying to hire Bevell after he finished the 2020 season as the Detroit Lions interim head coach. The 51-year-old was the offensive coordinator in Detroit the last two years, with the team averaging 22.5 points per game and 348.5 total yards per game in his two seasons at the helm. Bevell became the Seahawks offensive coordinator in 2011, 11 seasons after breaking into the NFL as an assistant quarterbacks coach with Green Bay. He made back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl with Seattle in 2013-14 and won one championship. His biggest task will be working with a likely rookie quarterback -- expected to be Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft -- to mold Jacksonville's offense to the young signal-caller's strengths.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin should be ready for the NFC Championship game as long as he does not suffer a setback. He will see plenty of targets against the Green Bay Packers and can be a starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Evans continues to be one of the main options in the passing game when healthy and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues if active.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (finger, quadriceps) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Jones shared playing time with Leonard Fournette in the last game but may see a few more touches this week. He can be a starting option in most fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Williams received 12 carries in the Divisional Round playoff game and probably will receive a similar workload against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He can be a possible flex option in some leagues but is not a must-start option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) participated in practice Thursday, Jan. 21, and 'looked fit and didn't appear to be having any challenges getting in and out of stance.' according to ESPN's Jenna Laine. 'Vita moved around pretty good today when it was full speed,' head coach Bruce Arians said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday, Jan. 21, and is expected to be a game-time decision for the NFC Championship game versus the Green Bay Packers, according to head coach Bruce Arians.
Fantasy Spin: As Arians told reporters, Brown is "veteran enough" to handle his business Sunday without getting in any practice this week if it comes to that. Either way, a limited Brown is enough of a reason to back off of him in all fantasy formats, especially because the Buccaneers are deep at receiver. Scott Miller and Tyler Johnson would likely split snaps if he is unable to go.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin is poised for a great showing against the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Godwin has 19 targets in the Buccaneers' two playoff games, a mark that leads the team. He could be in line to receive more work than usual, as Mike Evans will likely have to deal with star corner Jaire Alexander and Antonio Brown (knee) is a game-time decision. The drops have been an issue for Godwin in the postseason, but Tom Brady's trust in him hasn't wavered. He won't be as pricey as Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams, but he could provide similar production, making him a great DFS value play this week.
Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (knee) was added to the injury report and limited in practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: There has been no indication as of yet from Buffalo's beat writers that Beasley had a setback Thursday, but his name was a curious omission from the injury report on Wednesday considering he is far from 100 percent. Friday's practice report will be telling in terms of what fantasy owners and DFS players should expect, but the likely absence of rookie Gabriel Davis may help Beasley bounce back from his bagel against the Baltimore Ravens in a big way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans will likely face off with Packers' star corner Jaire Alexander in the NFC title game. This is fresh off of being held to one catch by Marshon Lattimore- though his lone reception was a touchdown. Evans and Alexander went toe-to-toe in Week 6, with Alexander following him on 76 percent of the routes, holding him to zero catches, per Pro Football Focus. Evans is talented enough to beat any corner, but this is legitimately a matchup to fear. He should be faded in DFS tournaments this weekend.