The National Football League will kick off their 100th season tonight when the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. This is the oldest rivalry in the league, and schedule makers decided this matchup would be worth abandoning the longstanding tradition of the Super Bowl winner hosting the Thursday night opener.
The champion New England Patriots will fill that role in primetime on Sunday night, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Foxboro. That time slot last season gave us the spectacular comeback win engineered by an injured Aaron Rodgers. The effort was heroic, and the result positive, with Rodgers playing in the second half even though he had been hurt in the first. After that testament to toughness, Rodgers was never the same in an injury plagued 2018 campaign.
His off year allowed the Bears to slip ahead of Green Bay and the rest of their NFC North Division rivals, namely the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, and capture their first division title since 2010 while ending a run of four straight last place finishes.
Long established, and understandable tendencies, point to a team coming off a breakthrough season after years of dismal play, suffering a down year in their encore campaign to their winning season. There is no denying the Bears talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, but expectations have skyrocketed after last year’s success, and the task of putting together back-to-back winning seasons is made more difficult with the motivational elements factored into the Bears outlook for 2019.
Now, while these two teams have a history that dates back to the beginnings of the league, it has been their recent matchups that have sparked the most interest. Last year, in the Sunday night opener, the Bears put their new defensive weapon, Khalil Mack, on display for the world to see. He did it all, and I don’t write that rhetorically, in this game, he really did it all.
He intercepted a pass, caused a fumble, scored a touchdown and sacked Aaron Rodgers. His effort was celebrated by the visiting Bears while they built up a 17-0 first half advantage. After 30 minutes of play, it was not expected Rodgers would be available for the final 30 minutes. DeShone Kizer had guided the Packers offense in the second quarter after Rodgers was sidelined with an injury. Riding the wave of a 17-0 halftime advantage and the expectations that the Packers star quarterback was sidelined for the night, was reason for optimism in the Bears halftime locker room.
Even with Rodgers gutting it out by taking the field for the second half, his play through much of the third quarter left the Lambeau Field crowd facing the dire prospect of seeing their team lose on their home field.
A rare occurrence for the Packers at Lambeau Field.
A third quarter field goal, which swelled the Bears advantage to 20-0, was a fitting stage for Rodgers to put on one of the greatest shows a quarterback has ever engineered in bringing his team back from near certain defeat to a thrilling win. A third quarter field goal got the Packers on the scoreboard, and a 21 point fourth quarter got Green Bay the one point win, 24-23.
When these two longtime rivals met at Soldier Field in December, the Bears got revenge for their opening day loss at Green Bay and moved closer to clinching the NFC North Division title.
So, what do we have tonight?
We’ve got a Bears team beginning a season in which their season-to-season flow spells problems. But, that flow is based on motivation, and the Bears will have no trouble getting up for this contest against their longtime rivals. It could be that Chicago plays their best game of 2019 tonight.
On the Packers side, much has changed for the team that plays in Titletown since their opener last year against the Bears. A year ago, they were favored by a touchdown and playing at home and Chicago was a team with four straight last place finishes. Tonight, the Packers start their first season under new head coach Matt LaFleur, are underdogs, and have had wholesale personnel changes on both sides of the ball.
They still have Rodgers behind center, while the Bears counter with third year pro Mitch Trubisky.
The NFL is hoping for a contest as gripping as last year’s opener between these two teams, while the edges for a wager don’t dramatically point to either side.