The Bears will be without cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson (shoulder) and Buster Skrine (concussion) Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, teeing up 2020 fifth-round pick Kindle Vildor and 2019 sixth-round pick Duke Shelley to start again in a critical win-and-in season finale.
But the Bears were, in all likelihood, expecting to be without Johnson and Skrine – neither of whom have practiced since Week 14.
The Packers, on the other hand, were dealt a gutting, unexpected injury blow this week when left tackle David Bakhtiari – the highest-paid tackle in NFL history – tore his ACL in practice on New Year’s Eve.
“You feel for (him), Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “You know sometimes the game isn't fair. Sometimes you put all your work in and you try as hard as you can and you get an unfortunate situation.”
So whose absence will loom larger over Sunday afternoon’s game at Soldier Field, which carries massive playoff implications for both teams?
The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining if the Bears ensure a spot in the playoffs, or if the Packers ensure the NFC No. 1 seed.
Vildor as drawn some tough assignments in Johnson’s absence – Justin Jefferson and D.J. Chark – since taking over for Johnson against the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago. He’s allowed nine catches on 12 targets for 87 yards (9.7 yards/reception) with two touchdowns, though he’s held his own as a physical tackler on the perimeter.
But you can bet Aaron Rodgers is going to know where Vildor is on every play.
“He’s well aware of who we’re going against and our defense and who we’re facing with them offensively,” coach Matt Nagy said.
The Packers will likely try to get Davante Adams – the best receiver in the NFL, by my estimation – matched up quite a bit against Vildor and Shelley while avoiding Kyle Fuller as much as possible.
The best way to keep Rodgers from consistently picking on Vildor and/or Shelley, though, is to generate pressure on the Packers’ quarterback and MVP frontrunner. And theoretically, the Bears should have an easier time not only affecting, but hitting Rodgers with Bakhtiari out.
Green Bay looks likely to have veteran reserve Rick Wagner available – he injured his knee last week against the Titans – and the rest of the Packers’ offensive line is still strong, even without one of the best tackles in the league.
But that $90 million in guaranteed money the Bears sunk into their edge rushers? That has to pay off on Sunday, especially with Bakhtiari out.
Otherwise, it might be a long day for Vildor – and, by extension, the Bears.