Week 1 Preview: Packers Look To Repeat 2018's Week 1 Win
Our long nightmare is over! Real, actual football is on the horizon and the Packers will get back to business in a new era of football by traveling to face a familiar rival in Chicago.
The Bears are no longer the lowly team they’ve been since Jay Cutler’s peak quickly passed in Chicago. In 2018, they were a legitimate defensive juggernaut, and would have advanced to the second round of the NFC Playoffs if not for an errant field goal.
Much of that potent defense returns in 2019, save for coordinator Vic Fangio. It’s fair to bet, though, that the Packers will still face a still defensive test in Week 1. Welcome to head coaching, Matt LaFleur.
The numbers paint a similar story to what we’ve often seen when the Packers and Bears meet: though they fell short of their typical standards in 2018, the Packers still fielded an above average offense. The Bears, meanwhile, rode an excellent defense to a +138 point differential last season, among the best in the league.
It’s been popular recently to put Aaron Rodgers’ stats up against less accomplished quarterbacks as a way to show his supposed decline. And to be fair, Rodgers has not been the quarterback he once was the past few seasons as injuries and a declining offense overall have pushed down his numbers.
And while Rodgers and Trubisky look largely comparable here, the last two numbers show the gap between them was still pronounced last year. DVOA and DYAR, both compiled by Football Outsiders, measure a player’s play-to-play value and overall value respectively. Rodgers was three times as valuable on a per play basis as Trubisky in 2019 and about twice as productive, even if their raw numbers are fairly similar.
Player to Watch
Matt Nagy has a reputation as an offensive wunderkind, and it’s well deserved. Any offense that put together any semblance of excellence with Mitchell Trubisky running the show should be praised. Talented though Trubisky may be, inconsistency in his play could bog down the attack if he didn’t have excellent weapons around him.
The Bears have taken pains to give him plenty to work with over the past two seasons, but none of his complementary pieces are more explosive than Tarik Cohen.
A 5-6 dynamo of a running back, Cohen’s raw numbers aren’t necessarily that exciting. He’s amassed just a shade under 1900 yards from scrimmage in two years in the NFL, the bulk of which has come on a variety of short passes.
But the advanced numbers paint a different picture. According to Football Outsiders, Cohen is one of the most valuable receiving running backs in the NFL, ranking fifth among all backs in their DVOA metric. Look for the Bears to get him involved early and often through the air.
What happened the last time the Packers and Bears played?
The Packers last faced the Bears in Week 15 of their irritating 2018 season, traveling to Chicago for the second game in the very brief Joe Philbin era.
Chicago slogged out a win that day, looking for all the world like a team that knew it had outclassed its opponent and just needed to do the bare minimum to win. For three quarters, that’s what they did, letting the Packers hang around with the score tied at 14 going into the fourth quarter.
After a touchdown pass from Mitchell Trubisky to Trey Burton gave the Bears a 21-14 lead, the Packers sputtered, going three-and-out on their next drive, an outcome forced in part by a Khalil Mack sack. A Bears field goal extended their lead, and an interception in the end zone (on a pass tipped by Jimmy Graham) rendered the rest of the contest all but academic.
A late field goal by the Packers made the score a respectable 24-17, but Chicago had put the game away much earlier.
Who’s going to win?
It’s hard not to think of parallels between the 2018 matchup between the Bears and Packers and this one. The Bears spent the 2018 offseason completely overhauling their roster, culminating with their enormous trade for Khalil Mack days before the season began.
But those pieces took some time to gel, and despite a gimpy Aaron Rodgers and a generally outmanned team, the Packers came out on top.
This year, I think those roles are reversed in Week 1. The Packers overhauled their team this offseason, but it’s going to take some time for all of those changes to be fully realized on this team. I think an improved Packers squad plays well this week, but it won’t be enough to topple a strong Bears defense in Chicago.
My prediction: Bears 27, Packers 20
Our weekly Twitter surveys return this year and optimism is carrying the day. 71% of voters believed that the Packers will defeat the Bears in Week 1, while a whopping 80% believe the Packers will make the playoffs.
Elsewhere, voters generally approve of the job being done by the Packers’ most notable figures. Aaron Rodgers, Brian Gutekunst, and Mike Pettine all currently carry approval ratings above 70%, and 80% of voters approved of the direction of the team in general.
Matt LaFleur fares less well, though, largely because voters don’t seem to have made up their minds about him yet. 48% approve of the job he’s done so far, but 51% said they were neutral on the Packers’ rookie head coach. That’s largely similar to how people felt about the Packers’ offense as a whole, where 56% of voters weren’t sure how they felt about that unit.