Packers vs. Bears preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (0-0) vs. Chicago Bears (0-0).
WHEN: 7:20 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
TV: NBC, with Al Michaels (play-by-play), Cris Collinsworth (analyst) and Michelle Tafoya (sideline reporter) and Terry McAulay (rules analyst).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 96-94-6.
LINE: Packers by 7.
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, high of 68.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (131-78-1) vs. Bears' Matt Nagy (0-0)
RELATED: Tom Silverstein's NFL picks: Week 1
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
HYPE OR TRIPE: For all that was written this week on the impact newly acquired Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack will have on this matchup, the reality is he may not play many snaps. The Bears dodged a disaster when rookie inside linebacker Roquan Smith tweaked a hamstring in his first practice after a two-week holdout. The injury could have been worse had they not pulled him out immediately, and it must be on their minds when it comes to playing Mack, who missed all of training camp and put on pads for the first time this week. It’s possible Bears coach Matt Nagy will limit Mack to definite passing downs and then monitor his snaps as the game goes along. He might only play him a dozen snaps. Expecting him to play 60 snaps would be unrealistic. “We'll listen to him, see how his body is, and then we'll make our judgment as we go,” Nagy said of how Mack’s week would go. Regardless of how much he plays, the Packers will have some protection options available.
FAMILIAR FACE: This will be the fourth time quarterback Aaron Rodgers opens the season against a Vic Fangio defense. Fangio, the Bears’ defensive coordinator, held a similar position with the San Francisco 49ers and was 2-0 against Rodgers until joining the Bears and losing in the 2015 opener. Through his career, Rodgers has a 99.9 passer rating in Week 1 games, but in those games against Fangio, it’s 108.1. The ’15 game was Fangio’s first with the Bears and his defense has gotten progressively better, so Sunday night will be a better judge of whether Fangio still holds the upper hand. Rodgers was 0-4 against the 49ers when Fangio was in charge of the defense, including two playoff losses. “Every time you’re playing against one of his defenses, you know they’re going to be sound, they’re going to tackle well, they’re going to disguise coverages and they’re going to throw a lot at you,” Rodgers said.
MIDDLE MEN: Even if rookie inside linebacker Oren Burks can play Sunday, he probably isn’t going to be a full-time participant. He missed the last two exhibition games and could just be used in some passing situations because of his athleticism. But the Bears have a power running attack and the Packers are going to need someone who can plug holes in the middle, so don’t be surprised if newcomer Antonio Morrison starts and plays on running downs. “He’s been great. He loves football. He’s into it,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “There’s an intensity, a passion for the game, and picking up the system, I don’t see that as a problem.” Morrison is a liability in coverage, so if Burks is inactive, Pettine will have to play a safety at inside linebacker in his nickel package.
MUM'S THE WORD: It would be nice to know what tight end Jimmy Graham’s expectations are for this season or how he thinks teams are going to cover him, but Graham apparently has taken a vow of silence since talking to reporters July 28, the third day of camp. Graham has refused to come into the locker room during open media sessions even though he could be subject to an NFL fine. What is known is that Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy think he has made a seamless transition to the offense and has a good chemistry with his quarterback. Graham remains a big red-zone threat — he had 10 touchdown catches last year — but he averaged just 9.1 yards per reception and hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2013. Because he can’t block, the Bears can pick a personnel grouping and mostly stick with it when he’s in the game. How the Bears cover him could provide a peek into how other teams plan to deal with him as the season goes on.
WORKING OVERTIME: Publicly, the Packers are expressing confidence in Ty Montgomery being able to complement starter Jamaal Williams in the backfield. The truth is, they may have to keep Williams in the lineup a good portion of the game because he is a much better blocker than Montgomery and would be a good option to help out with Mack. Williams is a natural runner who showed he could carry a big load at the end of last year when Montgomery and Aaron Jones were hurt, so the coaches should have no hesitation using him as much as they want. They just can’t afford for him to get hurt with Jones suspended for two games and third-string running back Darius Jackson added just this week. So, they’ll try to go with a rotation, but don’t be surprised to see Williams a lot. “I think it’ll be a rhythm thing,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “There’s sort of plays each guy, they’ll run a little bit better. So, I feel like they’ll work off each other pretty well, just like they’ve been doing in practice.”
The Bears' defense will be a lot better in December than it is Sunday, but its continued improvement under coordinator Vic Fangio will be evident. The problem for the Bears is that the Packers' offensive line is healthy and Aaron Rodgers is tough to stop at home and so there will be pressure on the Bears' offense to score. That might be too much to ask. Packers 27, Bears 20
The Packers are lucky to get Chicago early. The Bears enter this opener with a new coach (Matt Nagy) breaking in a young quarterback (Mitch Trubisky). Their defense will be good, but among their three most talented players, Khalil Mack just started practicing this week, Leonard Floyd will be playing with a cast on his right hand and first-round pick Roquan Smith was held out for most of camp. Meanwhile, the Packers are about as healthy as they could ever hope to be. Packers 24, Bears 17
The Packers are catching Khalil Mack at the right time, his first game after missing the entire offseason. And while the Bears have one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, the Packers have David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. Remember, one year ago when the Bears traveled to Lambeau Field, the Packers' starting left and right tackles were Lane Taylor and Justin McCray. The Packers managed to win that game 35-14 because, you know, Aaron Rodgers. So long as Rodgers vs. Mitch Trubisky is lopsided – and it certainly still is – this series will be also. Packers 31, Bears 17
There will be quite a bit of “new” on display Sunday night, from the Chicago Bears’ offense to the Green Bay Packers’ defense to Khalil Mack and Jimmy Graham – so I’m going to lean on what’s proven: Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are 15-4 against the Bears and 59-15 at Lambeau when Rodgers starts, and his overall command of the offense should get Green Bay enough points against a stout defense. Packers 24, Bears 13
Look for the Bears to keep Khalil Mack on a "pitch count," using him only on select pass-rushing downs, to lessen the chance of injury given his lack of a training camp. The Bears are a work in progress under first-year coach Matt Nagy, and like most NFL teams, they limited their starters' snaps during the preseason, so they will need some time to mesh. The Dec. 16 rematch in Chicago should be a much stiffer test for Green Bay. Packers 27, Bears 16