Football season is finally upon us! Thank god, because baseball season was a total disaster for both sides of town. For that reason, combined with the addition of Jay Cutler, this might be the most highly anticipated football season in Bears history since 1985. And, there's no more exciting way than to open it up in Green Bay.
For the first time in probably over a decade, the NFC North is being viewed as the strongest division in the NFC.... in large part to Cutler, Rodgers, and Peterson. Analysts from all over the web have any of the big 3 (CHI, GB, MIN) winning the division... and in some cases have all of them winning 10-12 games. So, an opening day victory in Green Bay would be more than just a win vs our rivals this year. It would amount to a giant test vs strong competition, and a huge head start in the division.
When the Packers have the ball.
Aaron Rodgers is proving to be one of the game's top QBs, and he has plenty of weapons on offense to work with. If you play fantasy football, WRs Greg Jennings and Donald Driver should be high on your "must" haves, and RB Ryan Grant will have many opportunities as the passing game creates room for him to run.
The key matchup: Jennings and Driver vs an injured and/or somewhat inexperienced Bears secondary.
Starting CBs Charles Tillman and Zachary Bowman, and FS Danieal Manning have all missed most of training camp and the preseason with injuries. If they take the field at less than 100%, they'll surely have their hands full. If the Bears are forced to start any of the backups in the secondary (Nathan Vasher, Corey Graham, Trumaine McBride, or rookie Al Afalava), it could be a very long evening.
The X factor on defense for the Bears: Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli
When the Bears opened up with a victory in Indianapolis last year, the Colts had no clue what the Bears were doing on defense after sand-bagging it all preseason. If Lovie Smith can surprise the great Peyton Manning with X's and O's... he can surely do the same to Aaron Rodgers, and he now has veteran Rod Marinelli to assist him.
When the Bears have the ball.
Jay Cutler, Jay Cutler, Jay Cutler. I cannot stress how much he changes the Bears offense. Cutler's abilites completely alter how defenses have to prepare for the Bears. And although the Bears lack quality at WR... RB Matt Forte and TEs Greg Olsen and Dez Clark are wonderful weapons to have. Devin Hester may not catch the deep ball half the time, but safeties are forced to respect his ability to get behind them, which also stretches the field vertically for the Bears.
The key matchup: Greg Olsen, Dez Clark and Kellen Davis vs Aaron Kampman and Jeremy Thompson.
The Packers brought Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers in this off-season and switched to a 3-4 defense. Under year 1 of the switch, they've asked DEs Kampman and Thompson to move to OLB. DEs are used to playing out of a 3 point stance and moving forward to rush the passer. But, now... Kampman and Thompson will be asked to move backward and run in coverage with Olsen and Clark. Olsen regularly beats real LBs... and when he's split out wide, he beats up on DBs. That's a greater mismatch than the Packers WRs vs Bears CBs (who've at least been playing their position for years). The Packers defense will struggle vs good TEs all year long.
The X Factor on offense for the Bears: Devin Hester
I don't expect Hester to get the majority of targets in this offense on any Sunday. That will go to Greg Olsen. But, Hester's ability to get behind defenses, and Cutler's ability to throw the ball that deep is reason for concern.
The X Factor on defense for the Packers: BJ Raji
The mammoth rookie NT was drafted in the 1st round specifically for the new 3-4. Raji will rotate with veteran Ryan Pickett. But, if he's as special as the Packer's thought he was when they drafted him, he could make an immediate impact.