The NFC title game loss must still be fresh in Mike McCarthy’s mind: the head coach kicked off Week 1 with some uncharacteristic aggression toward the division-rival Bears. While some of this confidence may be warranted, a number of factors should keep the game tight into the second half.
The injury bug bit Green Bay early this season as Jordy Nelson was lost for the year with a torn ACL and the better half of the O-line was sidelined throughout August. One could argue that the Packers come into Week 1 a touch unprepared, with Aaron Rodgers not having played a live snap since mid-August and the defense as a whole looking far from polished.
Though the Packers will be without their top receiving target, they still have a number of playmakers that can spoil Vic Fangio’s debut as Bears D-coordinator. With James Jones now back in the mix, Chicago will think twice about double-teaming starters Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. All things considered, the NFL’s reigning MVP is poised for a big day as he faces a suspect Bears pass defense in what will surely be pass-friendly weather conditions.
Look for the Bears to come out firing against the traditionally-soft Dom Capers defense. While Chicago is missing key targets at wide receiver, the Packers have a substantial amount of youth in their secondary that Jay Cutler can exploit, if provided with adequate protection up front. The Bears O-line shouldn’t have much trouble with the Packers front seven as defensive linemen Letroy Guion and Datone Jones serve their suspensions.
Since the first week of the preseason, the Packers defense has not looked particularly adept at defending above-average running backs. The unit is presented with a familiar challenge in Matt Forte, who is as capable a receiver as he is a ball carrier. Expect the Bears to go after inside linebackers Sam Barrington and Nate Palmer, both of whom would be backups on most any other roster.
As is often the case with the league’s longest standing rivalry, Sunday’s game should carry some surprises. The Packers have dropped their past three season openers and have a general tendency to start slow under McCarthy. Meanwhile, one can expect the Bears to remain competitive under the stable coaching style of John Fox.
Prediction: Packers 34 Bears 20