By DAN ZIELINSKI
For the first time since 2006, the Green Bay Packers will have a new head coach on the sideline. The Packers hired Matt LaFleur in the offseason after the firing of long-time coach Mike McCarthy.
The players’ acclimation to LaFleur’s offensive scheme will dictate the Packers’ success this season. They won’t have an easy test in Week 1, as they square off against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago. Thursday’s game will mark the kickoff to the NFL’s 100th season.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 35 years old and has had a decorated 14-year career. But the veteran QB has won only one Super Bowl. His transition to the new offensive scheme will be the biggest area to watch this season, especially with him searching for another title before his career ends.
Rodgers has to perform against the Bears on Thursday if the Packers want to win. He’s won 16 of 21 starts against the Bears, including a 20-point second-half comeback to secure a 24-23 victory in the first game of the season last year.
The Bears returned the favor in December, beating the Packers 24-17 in Chicago.
Expect the Packers to run the ball more under LaFleur. The Packers ran less than any team last year, but running back Aaron Jones likely will receive more touches this season.
The Bears posted a 12-4 record last season under first-year coach Matt Nagy for their first winning season since 2012. The defense was one of the best in the NFL while the offense ranked ninth in total points.
Although the Packers present intrigue and should have a better defense this season than in years past, the Bears present too many challenges and mismatches. The Bears return a talented roster, including outside linebacker Khalil Mack, and will be one of the best teams in the NFC this season.
Prediction: Bears 24, Packers 17