Week 1 Preview: 5 Things to Know Against Bears

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The Packers square off against the Bears in Week 1 to kickoff the NFL’s 100th season. Here are five things to know to help make you a smarter Packers fan on Thursday: 

Mitch Trubisky finished 2018 on a hot streak

Mitch Trubisky is a longshot to win league MVP this year, but he’s a betting favorite. More bets have been placed for Trubisky to win MVP (at 75-to-1) than any other player. One reason why Trubisky is a bettor’s buddy is how he finished last season. The Bears quarterback has won his last eight regular season starts and has a 102.8 passer rating in his last four starts.

Even if Trubisky doesn’t start 2019 like he finished 2018, it may not matter. Chicago’s dominant defense did not require much from their offense, and no one mistook the Bears as an offensive juggernaut in 2018. Their defense was good enough to overcome some poor performances by their quarterback. In five games last season when Trubisky’s passer rating was below 77, the Bears won four. Since 2010, Aaron Rodgers has had 16 games where his passer rating was below 77, and the Packers have won just five.

Losing debuts by Packers head coaches

Matt LaFleur hopes to avoid a welcome-to-the-NFL introduction like the Packers gave Bears first-year head coach Matt Nagy last season. While Nagy made his Bears coaching debut in primetime, LaFleur’s debut is even more rare – he’s starting his head coaching career in the league’s showcase Thursday night kickoff game. It’s just the second time a first-year head coach has debuted in that game after Washington’s Jim Zorn in 2008. (The Redskins lost to the Giants, 16-7.)

Here’s how Green Bay’s last five head coaches have fared in their first game at the helm:

Lindy Infante, 1988: Beat writer Bob McGinn characterized the Packers’ performance as full of “chaos and confusion.” Green Bay fumbled away the opening kickoff, turned the ball over seven times and quarterback Randy Wright was sacked seven times in three quarters. The Packers lost 34-7 at Lambeau Field to the Los Angeles Rams. Don Majkowski mopped up late, and proceeded to rip off the team’s longest run of the day – 24 yards – and toss their only touchdown pass. The Rams would finish the season 10-6 and lose in the first round of the playoffs against the Vikings.

Mike Holmgren, 1992: Billed as a battle of the prodigal sons of 49ers coach Bill Walsh, Holmgren’s Packers lost 23-20 in overtime to Dennis Green’s Vikings. It was as close to a moral victory as they come, but Holmgren told reporters after the game he doesn’t “get into those.” The Packers were 0-8 against the spread in home games the year prior, won just 6 of 28 at Lambeau in the six previous seasons and lost four straight season openers by scores of 31-3, 20-0, 34-7 and 20-3. Majkowski started and completed 13 straight passes in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Vikings would finish the season 11-5 and lose at home to the Redskins in the first round of the playoffs.

Ray Rhodes, 1999: For the first time in seven years, the Packers played a game without two of their best – Mike Holmgren and Reggie White. Against Holmgren prodigy and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, Brett Favre orchestrated a memorable game-winning drive. His touchdown pass to Jeff Thomason with 15 seconds left secured a 28-24 Green Bay victory. All three of the Packers’ early season wins required a furious last-second comeback by Favre, and the team fell apart by season’s end. The Raiders would finish the season 8-8 and lose the AFC West by one game to Holmgren’s Seahawks.

Mike Sherman, 2000: Down four with a minute left, Brett Favre tossed an interception with the Packers just nine yards from the end zone to seal a 20-16 to the New York Jets. Favre returned after missing the final three preseason games with tendinitis in his elbow and struggled mightily, completing just 41 percent of his passes – the third-worst performance in his career to date. New York would finish the season 9-7, and head coach Al Groh resigned after the season to coach his alma mater Virginia.

Mike McCarthy, 2006: The Packers were shut out by the Bears at home, 26-0. Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman improved to 3-0 in games against Green Bay and completed 9 of 11 passes for 163 yards in the first quarter. It was the most yards by a Bears quarterback in an opening quarter against the Packers and the third-most allowed by Green Bay in franchise history. The Bears would finish the season with a 13-3 record and lose in the Super Bowl to the Indianapolis Colts.

Aaron Rodgers and the bright lights of primetime

Whether Thursday night, Sunday night or Monday night, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers outperforms his career averages on national television. In 19 primetime games against NFC North opponents, Rodgers has a passer rating of 108.3 (five points higher than his career average) and throws touchdowns on 7.2 percent of his passes (one percent higher than his career average). In eight primetime games against the Bears, Rodgers has a 112.4 passer rating and an 8.3 percent touchdown rate.

Rodgers has also been a prolific quarterback in the season’s first month. Green Bay has scored 1,005 points across his eleven seasons as the starter – third-most in the league – and Rodgers’ 103.0 passer rating in September is less than a point away from Drew Brees for the NFL’s best.

The Packers win when Rodgers outperforms his opposing quarterback. Since 2010, Green Bay wins 84 percent of games where Rodgers’ passer rating is higher than his opponent. If his opponent has a higher passer rating, the Packers win just 26 percent of the time. It’s even more important in front of a national audience. If you look at just primetime games from 2010 through 2018, the Packers win 88 percent of the time Rodgers has a higher passer rating and just 21 percent when he does not.

From 2010 to early in 2012, Rodgers had a stretch of nine primetime games where his passer rating exceeded his opponent’s, and the Packers had a record of 8-1. From 2015 to 2018, Rodgers has had a higher passer rating than his opponents in just seven of eighteen primetime games. Green Bay’s record in those games? 10-8.

Mike Pettine’s formula for success

The Packers defensive coordinator used a patchwork quilt of defenders at cornerback and safety in 2018 and still managed to hold opposing quarterbacks to a lower passer rating than Green Bay achieved in 2017. Opposing quarterbacks were held to a passer rating of 85.9 when the Packers won – over ten points lower than 2017. When the Packers win, all their defense has to do is hold the opposing quarterback to an average performance. Consider also the impact of turnovers. Though the Packers intercepted just seven passes in 2018, five came in Green Bay victories.  

The turnovers may improve thanks to the free agent additions this offseason. New pass rushers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have a combined 111 quarterback hits since 2015, and are the only pair of linebackers in the top eight who are on the same team.

A record breaking season ahead for Davante Adams?

With another successful campaign, Davante Adams will make the Packers record book look significantly different next offseason. Adams has seven career games with 10-plus catches, tied for No. 1 in team history with Donald Driver and Sterling Sharpe, and came within one catch of breaking the team record for most receptions in a single season (111 vs. 112 by Sterling Sharpe in 1993).

Rodgers targeted Adams 41 times on third down last season, completing about 66 percent for a passer rating of 122.4. In 2018, the Packers converted 37 percent of all third downs. When Rodgers threw to Adams, the Packers converted on 46 percent of third downs. Look for that trend to continue in Week 1 against the Bears.