Green Bay Packers

Something Tells Me Love Will Find A Way

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

You couldn’t ask for a better spot to kick off a new era of Green Bay Packers football than Soldier Field. Well, you could argue that Lambeau Field would be a better spot, but the Pack always opens on the road — this is the fifth straight year they’ve been dissed, I mean, assigned a road game to start the season. No other team has opened away from home the last five years.

No, I’m not bitter, but this would’ve been a great time to break that trend. Instead, the league’s oldest rivalry resumes in the Windy City where the Chicago Bears hope they can finally reclaim ownership of their own team, now that Aaron Rodgers and his 24-5 record against them has moved on to a different shade of green pastures.

The anticipation for the 207th game in this series is off the charts for both fan bases. Packer fans, of course, are dying to see how Jordan Love handles being the first Packer QB not named Favre or Rodgers to start an opener in over 30 years. Bears fans believe they finally have the better signal caller and that their days as NFC North bottom feeders are over.

One game will not answer either of those questions, of course, but it will serve as an important first volley in this new era. So let’s take a look at what we might expect. Chicago came into this season with buckets of cap room and immediately worked to upgrade their defense by adding T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds to their linebacking corps. On the other side of the ball, Packer favorites Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan have been added to the mix.

Their biggest addition is a true No. 1 receiver in D.J. Moore, who came over in the trade with the Carolina Panthers in that massive deal for the No. 1 pick. Since Justin Fields’ deep passing game remains a work in progress, look for Chicago to target Moore with short passes and seeing what kind of YAC damage he can do. Green Bay’s safeties, the roster’s biggest weakness, will be tested all afternoon.

Fields remains the most dangerous QB in the league when he takes off with the ball. The Packers did a pretty good job containing him last season and not giving up the huge play. Quay Walker and De’Vondre Campbell give Green Bay a pair of athletic linebackers to deal with him. Everyone on that side of the ball will be on guard. Look for Joe Barry to employ more zone than you might like, to make sure that not everyone has their back turned.

Both teams will lean heavily on the running game to make things easier for their unproven QBs. The Packers were more productive on the ground last year, and the Bears have moved on from David Montgomery and will rely on Khalil Herbert, free agent D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson.

If the Packers are going to stay in the thick of things in the North this season, they’ll need to be much better against the run. Devonte Wyatt and TJ Slaton need to take a big step, now that they’ve earned starter reps alongside Kenny Clark. They’ll be tested early with two opponents who love to run the ball, the Bears and the Atlanta Falcons. Putting Fields on long down and distance is a recipe for a Packers victory.

The biggest development on the injury front is the news that Green Bay’s two starting receivers are dealing with hamstring injuries. The Packers have ruled Christian Watson out, and Matt LaFleur is calling him “week to week.” Not a great development for Love, who would have tested Chicago’s questionable secondary with deep shots to Watson all afternoon. Doubs is questionable, after returning to practice late in the week. Have to believe he’ll be on a pitch count if he’s active for the game.

How will this impact the offensive game plan? Well, the Pack was always going to lean heavily on RBs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in this game. They likely want to test the soft middle of the Bears defense with rookies Jayden Reed and Luke Musgrave. But Samori Toure and rookies Malik Heath and Dontayvion Wicks will likely be called on to step in to provide production with the top two guys banged up. Are they ready for their closeups?

One of the by-products of having the youngest roster in the league is the inevitable growing pains the team will have to endure. That will be the case on special teams, where the Packers are relying on rookies at kicker and punter. It’s likely that a game or two (or three) will be determined by Anders Carlson‘s right leg and punter Daniel Whelan’s holding ability. The always windy conditions at Soldier Field could provide a critical early test in a game that’s considered a virtual tossup.

Both teams will have success moving the ball on the ground, and I believe Love will pass his first test as a starter and do enough to earn a divisional road victory. The game will likely come down to a late turnover or special teams mistake. Over the past 30 years, the Bears have found a way to make that late critical error — or the Pack’s QB has made the big signature play.

The pressure is on Chicago to hold serve at home and serve notice that it’s a whole new world in this series. Something tells me they’ll find a way to kick the game away at the end.

Packers 24

Bears 23

I’ll have much more on this game when I kick off season #28 of “Packer Preview” on the Vikings flagship station KFAN, Sunday morning at 7am CDT. You can also listen whenever you wake up on the iHeart Radio app.

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