Optimism is never higher than in Week 1 of the NFL season. It’s the culmination of eight months of team building, practices, new additions and more. Every team is 0-0 and there is a reason for everyone to think that their team is going to make a run.
It’s no different in Chicago, where the arrival of Matt Nagy as head coach to bring along Mitch Trubisky had the fans excited, but then the massive trade over the weekend for Khalil Mack has only raised the bar.
Add in free agents Allen Robinson II, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and draft picks Anthony Miller, James Daniels and Roquan Smith and this roster looks completely different than it did at the end of last season.
Kicking things off in prime time against the hated Green Bay Packers marks a huge test for a team that has made moves that scream ‘the time to win is now.’ Could this be the season that turns the tides in Chicago after seven long seasons out of the playoffs?
It all starts at Lambeau:
Green Bay Packers
SB Nation site: Acme Packing Company
Game day/time/TV: Sunday, Sept. 9, 7:20 p.m. CT, NBC
Record: 0-0 (2-2 preseason, 7-9 in 2017)
Bears all-time record against: 94-96-6
Historical match ups: The Packers took the lead in the series for the first time since 1933, last season and now trail. The Bears took the lead in the series with a 10-7 victory in October of that year.
If the Bears want to get the advantage back they’ll have to sweep them this year.
Last meeting: A 23-16 Bears loss in week 10 in November of last year at Soldier Field.
The Bears took the lead on a Mitch Trubisky-to-Josh Bellamy 46-yard TD with 10:39 to play.
Brett Hundley, of all people, quarterbacked the Packers to that victory.
Injury report: The Packers listed three players on their Wednesday report:
Limited: LB Oren Burks (shoulder), LB James Crawford (hamstring)
Did not participate: S Josh James (ankle)
The latest Bears injury report can be found here.
Offense: The Packers had a down year offensively in 2017, finishing 26th in yards and 21st in points. They averaged 20.0 points per game, which isn’t much more than Chicago’s 16.5.
However, they were without Aaron Rodgers for the final nine games of the season.
That said though, the offense wasn’t much better even with Rodgers. They averaged just over 23 points per game in the seven games in which Rodgers started.
The Packers return receivers Randall Cobb (66 rec./653 yds./4 TDs last year) and Devante Adams (74/885/10). Third year pro Geronimo Allison (23/253/0) could be in line for a breakout year.
In the ground game, for this week at least, the Packers don’t appear to be vastly improved over last year.
Jamaal Williams (153 att./556 yds./4 TDs in ‘17) will get the nod as Aaron Jones (81/448/4) is suspended for PEDs, however, Williams averaged 3.6 YPC last season. Ty Montgomery (71/273/3) is still around as well.
Williams had just one 100 yard game last season while Jones had two in just four starts.
The unit does have a different coordinator, as Joe Philbin returns to the sideline. While McCarthy retains playcalling duties, Philbin was in this same position when the Packers went 15-1 and led the league in points.
Defense: The Packers defense looks to improve, also with a new coordinator.
Out is Dom Capers, who most of Wisconsin lost faith in years ago. In comes Mike Pettine, who has been out of coaching since his stint as head coach with the Browns in 2015.
Pettine inherits a unit that ranked 26th in points allowed last season, allowing 24 points per game. They ranked 22nd in yards allowed.
The defense returns Clay Matthews (7.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR last season), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (3 INTs, 6 PDs), Kentrell Brice (1 INT), Nick Perry (7 sacks) and Mike Daniels (5 sacks).
They’ve added Muhammad Wilkerson (3.5 sacks) and brought in Tramon Williams (2 INTs) back.
They are expecting a big season from second year corner Kevin King.
The Packers are hoping Pettine brings more of a new-school approach with more adjustments and accountability than they were getting from Capers.
There are some questions and some age concerns on the defense, but there are still some good players over there.
Key match ups: The big one here, to me, is going to be Pettine against Matt Nagy.
The Bears have pretty much hidden all of the best wrinkles of their offense, saving it all for this weekend. How the Packers adjust to a limited amount of film, likely mostly consisting of the Kansas City Chiefs players, makes this an interesting thing.
How the Packers line up on offense to block Khalil Mack, with just one week’s notice, will definitely be interesting as well. Protection is going to be big for Green Bay. Mack against Bryan Bulaga and Davd Bakhtiari is going to be a key match up for both sides. The tackles (depending on where Mack lines up), likely won’t have him one-on-one too often.
For the Bears, they need to get into an offensive rhythm quickly, while keeping the Packers offense, and more specifically Rodgers, out of sync on defense.
What to watch for: Do I really need to tell you? This is the litmus test for where the Bears are at in their new era, and where they are headed.
Watch for the new offense, the RPOs, the motions, the sub packages, the match ups they try to get, and varied looks they create.
On defense, see how rookie Roquan Smith plays and watch the newly-acquired Khalil Mack to see where their conditioning is at, and where the defense is at early in the season.
This is potentially the dawning of a new era of Bears football. I think after years of irrelevance, it’s time to come back.
Key stats: Trubisky’s current career high in passing yards (297) came against Green Bay last year.
The Packers needed overtime to win three of their seven games last year and beat just two teams with winning records a year ago (Dallas and Seattle, both teams finished 9-7)
Rodgers has thrown for more TDs and yardage against the Bears than any other team he’s faced, but has also thrown more INTs to the Bears than any other opponent.
Trubisky did not turn the ball over during the final two games of 2017.
My pick: Packers 28, Bears 24 (To see my pick against the spread check out my article on Sports Bet Collective)
Can the Bears win Sunday night in Green Bay?
What do they need to do to win?