Thursday is one of the greatest days of the year—the start of the National Football League season.

A good one gets things started, as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers travel south to take on their longtime rival, the Chicago Bears.

Last year these NFC North teams met in Week 1, and the Pack rallied back behind an injured Aaron Rodgers to overcome a 17-0 halftime deficit and win a 24-23 thriller. The Bears got revenge in Week 15, with a division-clinching 24-17 victory behind 2 1/2 sacks from star pass rusher Khalil Mack.

Bears face a stiffer challenge in 2019

The Bears made a huge move forward in 2018 to capture their first NFC North crown since 2010, but with a tougher schedule and the loss of one of the league’s best defensive minds in Vic Fangio, a return to double-digit wins again this year will be a challenge. They still have a plethora of talent on defense, but history tells us that regression is likely in turnover differential, after the Bears posted a +12 margin last season. All that said, it should be another strong year on the defensive end for the “Monsters of the Midway.”

On the other side of the ball, it is year two under head coach Matt Nagy’s offense for third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The North Carolina product progressed from a subpar rookie season, but still was up and down in 2018. Chicago’s front office added a few nice pieces in third-round draft pick running back David Montgomery and free agent wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to surround their signal caller, but reports from training camp indicated Trubisky is still far from a finished product heading into the 2019 season.

Packers looking to bounce back from disappointing 2018

The Packers went through a ton of changes during the offseason, including their first head coaching change since 2006. Matt LaFleur, 39, got his first head coaching job after a modest year in 2018 as offensive coordinator in Tennessee. Change was certainly needed, as the Mike McCarthy/Rodgers relationship reportedly went sour, but LaFleur lacks experience, and his style does not necessarily jibe with the strengths of one of the game’s best quarterbacks. It may work out in the end, but I am not confident the Packers’ offense will set the world on fire to start the 2019 campaign.

On defense the Packers should have an improved unit. They brought in Adrian Amos from the Bears and should get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the additions of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith at linebacker. The Green Bay defense is not likely to be among the best in the league, but it matches up well with Chicago, which should keep the scoring low Thursday night.

If I was forced to take a side in this one, I would lean with the Packers and the points, but the three-point line on BetAmerica seems spot-on. However, I do see value in the Under, which sits at 47.

The Packers are likely to struggle in the run game, which in turn will lessen the effectiveness of play action from Rodgers. Look for Rodgers to complete a lot of short and intermediate passes, which should keep the clock moving. It is possible the Bears offense will take a big step forward in year two under Nagy, but I need to see it from Trubisky and crew before I believe it.

I am expecting a game in the low 20s, which should keep this one under the total to start the year.

Pick: Under 47 (1/2 unit)


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