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What to Watch For: Bears and Pack Continue Rivalry to Open 100th NFL Season

The Bears nearly swept the Packers last season, save a miraculous comeback by Aaron Rodgers. The two meet up again to kick off the 100th season of the NFL.

Photo Courtesy of NBC Sports

Football is back and it doesn’t get much better than this. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will write another chapter in the longest rivalry in the game on Sept. 5 in the Windy City. I know Chicago fans are itching to see the Bears defense wreaking havoc, especially versus Aaron Rodgers. I’m expecting a close game, with the following factors playing big parts in the outcome:

Khalil Mack picking up where he left off

Mack was recently heard saying, “he can’t wait to hit someone” as the hour’s countdown till the season opener. Many will remember, Packers fans especially, how dominant Mack was in Lambeau during Week One. To refresh your memory, he wound up with two tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, one fumble recovery and one interception returned for a score. He and his linemates were a big reason that Rodgers got knocked out to begin with, before the miraculous comeback that ended in utter sadness for the Bears.

Considering how ineffective Mack was with the Raiders, it seemed like the Bears brass were admitting desperation to bulk up their D-line. Knowing that, and seeing what all the Bears gave Oakland in return, that move better have been worth it. So far, it’s been what we all expected, and then some. Expect for Mack to pick up where he left off last season, leading the best defense in the league and tormenting any opposing quarterbacks.

You can bet Mack will be hounding Rodgers and the Packers O-Line all night, hoping to disrupt any semblance of offensive flow. Photo found at Sports Mockery.

The rest of the defense doing their jobs

It should be interesting to see how some of the newest Bears defensemen do in Chicago. Two athletes worth noting are Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Buster Skrine, both of whom have some tread in the NFL already. The one area of the defense that might be lacking most is the secondary. Skrine was a solid addition for the Bears, having shown signs of elite caliber with the New York Jets, but not consistently enough.

In addition to adding another capable star to the secondary, it’s always nice to “steal” a player away from your biggest rival. The Bears did just that by signing Clinton Dix, a proven ball hawk who can hopefully help shut down his former squad.

As for the rest of the defense, primarily the guys alongside Mack (Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, and Leonard Floyd to name a few) they embody the Monsters of the Midway mantra. While they lost arguably one of the best defensive minds the Bears have had in quite some time (Vic Fangio), they have an equally aggressive new play-caller in Chuck Pagano. It’ll be fun to watch these guys tear it up again and hopefully see Rodgers on his backside more than once.

Not giving Rodgers second or third chances (costly dropped INT last season led to Packers scoring drive for the win)

As mentioned above, the Packers pulled out a miraculous comeback to start the season last year. Chicago was in cruise control, seemingly, and could do no wrong. It looked the best I’d seen them play in Green Bay in nearly forever. Rodgers gets injured and hobbles off the field, doubt creeps into the home fans who aren’t used to seeing their Packers stumble like this. Sure enough, that wasn’t the end of the story as Rodgers somehow made it back out, basically playing on one good leg. Bears fans can easily flashback to when Rodgers threw what should’ve been a drive-ending, and most likely game-ending pick, but Kyle Fuller dropped it.

It’s pretty rare any of the greats (Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc.) throws that poor of a pass right to a defender. You have to capitalize on those mistakes, and Chicago, unfortunately, was unable to do so. So, Rodgers gets redemption and makes the most of it, leading a drive downfield to cap their comeback and win the game, etching the fourth quarter into the lore of the long-standing rivalry.

How effective the field goal game will be

Speaking of flashbacks, when you put the words “Bears” and “kicker” in the same sentence, that basically brings on PTSD. With a chance to send the Bears past the Wild Card, Cody Parkey steps in as the potential hero. Fate said otherwise as Parkey hit the upright, then the crossbar and missed the game-winning field goal.

Ever since the Bears have made it a top priority to find a capable kicker, trying out as many as a half-dozen earlier in the summer.

Chicago narrowed their options down to two kickers in the preseason, with Eddie Pineiro winning the starting job. He’s shown a lot of potential throughout those four games when given the chance. Just when Bears fans were ready to get on board with him, he missed a PAT in the final preseason game against Tennessee. The Packers have a reliable kicker, and that in itself could be the difference between winning or losing.

Sidenotes

ISU Connection

Here’s a fun tidbit: two Iowa State alums will go head to head in their respective openers. A school not necessarily known for churning out NFL talent, these two guys were some of the best to wear Cardinal and Gold in recent years. Allen Lazard hasn’t had a chance to really make an impact, getting as far as making the practice squad for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Packers. Clearly he’s shown something the Packers brass like with a spot recently opening up due to Jace Sternberger (tight end) being placed on IR. They optioned to move Lazard to the 53-man roster, and though he may not get much playing time on the field, he’s got the ability to make big plays when needed.

On the other sideline will be David Montgomery, who showed in college he’s a beast that can’t be brought down. The Bears saw a lot of potential in Montgomery, using one of their few draft picks on him. While he hasn’t had much a chance to show off, he made the most of it during game one of the preseason, scoring his first NFL touchdown. Considering what the staff has said about him, he should get at least a few looks in their opener.

It was always fun to watch these guys play for each other and for the Cyclones, racking up yards left and right. While I’m sure it’ll be all love before and after the game, both will focus on the competition at hand in between.

Injury Report

Only three Bears are listed on the injury report heading into their opener tomorrow. Of the three, Trey Burton (tight end) might be the most significant, considering he’s the Bears’ hopeful starter at the position. Luckily, Chicago is plenty deep in terms of tight ends and Adam Shaheen (second on depth chart) is plenty capable of filling in. The other two listed are Bilal Nichols (defensive end) with a knee injury and Rashaad Coward (O-line) with an elbow injury.

Their list is small compared to that of the Packers who have two listed as out (Oren Burks – linebacker – and Darrius Shepherd – wide receiver) along with Ka’dar Hollman (cornerback) who’s questionable.

Prediction

Given the fact this game will be played at Soldier Field, I think the Bears find a way to edge out the Packers. Plenty of analysts are predicting Chicago to win the NFC North, and they’ll likely need this win to accomplish that.

Chicago 35, Green Bay 31

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