Our new NFL columnist Dave Gray casts his eye over the season opener and thinks that Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will get off to a fast start against their old rival, the Bears...
“A fully healthy Rodgers with a new head coach is an extremely exciting prospect.”
A fresh start for Rodgers
For the first time since taking over from Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers will be starting a season without Mike McCarthy in charge of the team. The now former Green Bay head coach was fired with four games to go last season after starting out 4-7-1.
He has been replaced by Matt LaFleur, the former Titans offensive coordinator and perhaps most interestingly, the Rams offensive coordinator for a year under Sean McVay. LaFleur will bring a much more modern approach to the offence than McCarthy who had become stale and a little old-fashioned by the end of his reign. Rodgers is arguably the most talented quarterback in the league and some would argue that his one Super Bowl ring is an underachievement.
The 35-year-old played every game last season but did so with various injuries. He still managed to churn out 4442 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and threw a very impressive two interceptions all season. A fully healthy Rodgers with a new head coach is an extremely exciting prospect. Throw into the mix a chip on his shoulder following plenty of criticism towards the end of McCarthy's time in charge and we could well see the best Rodgers yet.
Young Packers receivers can get it done
The Packers did little to add to their pass catchers in the offseason, but that is more about the faith the team have in their youthful receivers. Davante Adams will lead the group ahead of Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, both looking like an exciting pair of prospects as they head into their second year in the league. Valdes-Scantling has been working as the number two through the offseason while Allison is expected to do most of his damage from the slot. There's a lot of pressure on these three to succeed but all have more than enough talent to do so.
A lot to live up to for Chuck Pagano
The Bears defence returns almost all starters from the unit that last season led the NFL in points allowed, takeaways, interceptions, opponent passer rating and rushing yards allowed. They added former Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but the one big loss to this side of the ball for Chicago is defensive coordinator Vic Fangio who took over as Denver Broncos head coach. He was considered one of the very best in the business and it remains to be seen if Chuck Pagano can live up to his predecessor.
Real doubts over Mitch Trubisky
The offence is where the real issues lie for the reigning NFC North champions. Mitch Trubisky has been somewhat up and down in his first two seasons in the league. He has seen comparisons to Blake Bortles and that's not exactly a positive.
He was solid enough last season. 3224 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 picks is fine for a team with such an elite defence. But as the Jacksonville Jaguars showed last season, there is only so long a defence can hold a team up. Eventually the quarterback has to step up and there are real doubts over Trubisky's ability to do so.
David Montgomery could be a star for the Bears
Chicago's run game should look completely different from last season. Jordan Howard was traded to the Eagles and and signed former Seahawk Mike Davis. Tarik Cohen should have a bigger role but the most intriguing prospect is third round rookie David Montgomery. He is a big, powerful back that should suit the Bears style. He should get plenty of work straight away in an offence that saw Howard, despite not being a great fit, reach 935 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Bears home advantage makes them +3.5 point favourites but I like the Packers to go in and cause an upset. Take Green Bay to win the game outright at 29/20. I am expecting a lot from this Packers' offence this season too and they can get off to a hot start here, so back them to score in every quarter at 5/2.
In the first touchdown scorer market, there is one name that stands out - Valdes-Scantling; he is available at a very tempting 17/1, which could be worth a small bet.
To be successful, the Bears are going to need to run the ball well. Look for them to give David Montgomery a lot of work. I like him to go over 57.5 yards rushing (5/6) and also to score a touchdown anytime (11/10).
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