Note: I recorded a “Packer Preview” podcast looking ahead to the Bears game and the 2019 season. You can find it here: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/462-packer-preview-kfan-fm-100-28276127/
“Packer Preview” returns for a 24th season this Sunday morning at 7am on KFAN and iHeart Radio. If that’s too early for you, podcast it whenever you wake up.
The NFL’s 100th season is upon us and it opens with our favorite rivalry: game #199 between the Pack and Bears. What a way for Matt LaFleur to begin his head coaching career: in prime time at Soldier Field.
There is such a sense of the unknown with the 2019 Packers in light of the coaching change and what it might mean for Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Throw in the capital Brian Gutekunst has thrown at reshaping the defense to suit Mike Pettine’s scheme and there is a lot we don’t know about this team. To me, it feels like this team could win anywhere between eight and eleven games.
The schedule is favorable in that five of the first seven are at home: precisely what the new offense needs to work the kinks out and get comfortable. Facing tough defenses like the Bears, Vikings, Broncos and Eagles the first four weeks leaves very little wiggle room for the offense to ramp up. The fact that the last three are at home is certainly a much needed advantage.
The truth is we’ve learned very little about this team in the preseason. When the bubble wrap finally comes off the starters on Thursday night, we’ll see what this offense is all about. We’ll see how LaFleur and Rodgers work together in a hostile environment. We’ll see what Aaron Jones can do against that front seven. We’ll see if MVS and Geronimo Allison are ready for bigger roles.
Defensively, we’ll see how the Smiths upgrade the pass rush and how the new safety combo improves the back end. And we’ll see whether Montravius Adams looks like he’s ready to take Mike Daniels’ spot on the line (he’d better be).
We know the Packers have owned this rivalry of late, finally taking the overall lead in the series, 97-95-6. Rodgers is 15-3 in games he starts and finishes against the Bears and if you want to watch highlights of him breaking their hearts, you better have some time on your hands.
But the Bears are reigning NFC North champs, sneaking up on everyone last season after swiping Khalil Mack from the Pack and getting a major boost from Matt Nagy’s creative offensive mind. But things will be different in 2019. It’s highly likely they will pick off 27 passes again and finish +12 in the takeaway department. Defensive guru Vic Fangio is off to Denver and their secondary replaced Adrian Amos and Bruce Callahan with Ha Ha Clinton Dix and Buster Skrine (woof).
The Bears will likely go as far as Mitch Trubisky takes them. Many expect him to make a leap in his third season and he has the weapons to do it: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, Cordarelle Patterson, Trey Burton, Tarik Cohen and rookie David Montgomery: that’s a nice stable of offensive weapons. But it’s up to Trubisky to make it all work and until he proves he can excel for 60 minutes, late in a close game, the jury will still be out. He’s always solid for those first 10-12 scripted plays. Then things tend to go a bit haywire.
Look for Mike Pettine to try to confuse him by moving Z. Smith, P. Smith and Gary all over the place. Look for Kenny Clark to wreak havoc in the middle and look for a young, hungry opportunistic defense to turn the tables and take a couple of balls away on Thursday night.
Offensively, it might be tough skating early. You have to believe there will be some rust that needs to get knocked off the first few series. The Bears will look to shut down the running lanes and pay extra attention to Davante Adams. Look for Rodgers to target Allison and the tight end frequently–could this be Bob Tonyan’s coming out party?
A key to this game will be special teams: the Pack’s coverage units were underwhelming in the preseason with a lot of new faces. Patterson and Cohen both have the ability to tilt the field so the Pack must be sharp and stay in their lanes. The Pack has the big edge at kicker, where the Bears are relying on young Eddie Piniero, who was last seen shaking an extra point so badly the camera couldn’t keep up with the ball.
Look, the opening night home team has a great record in these games and Soldier Field will be rocking. It’s a tough spot for a new head coach. The last Packer coach to win his first game against the Bears was Dan Devine. But I have a strange feeling the Packers are going to make a statement on Thursday night. Soldier Field has been the Pack’s home away from home of late–they’ve won eight go their last nine games there.
Aaron Rodgers is at his best with a big old chip on his shoulder, and all the offseason chatter about him has placed one there. His domination of the Bears continues, to kickoff the 2019 campaign.
Here are my 2019 playoff predictions:
NFC: 1. Philadelphia 2. New Orleans 3. Los Angeles 4. Minnesota 5. Green Bay 6. Atlanta
AFC: 1. Kansas City 2. New England 3. Cleveland 4. Houston 5. Los Angeles 6. Jacksonville
Super Bowl: Eagles over Chiefs