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Thursday Night Preview: Can the Packers Upset the Bears?

Oh man, football is back, and we are getting a treat to kick off the 2019 season in a showdown between NFC North rivals in the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.

Per our team rankings (based on our nERD metric), these are two very good teams -- we have Chicago slotted sixth, and Green Bay just a notch or two back at 11th.

Who will come out on top on this matchup? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

The 2018 campaign was a strong season for both passers, but with the Packers missing the playoffs and the Bears having a shorter-than-expected playoff run, both signal callers will be hungry for strong 2019 seasons.

Among the 33 quarterbacks who recorded at least 250 drop backs in 2018, these were two strong gunslingers in the league by a few measures. In peeking at Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Mitchell Trubisky was marginally better at 0.16 per drop back, ranking tied for 12th, where the immortal Aaron Rodgers came in 16th (0.14), smack in the middle of the pack. In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- both signal-callers struggled a bit. Trubisky clocked in at 15th (49.13%), while Rodgers slid a bit back at 22nd (46.44%).

Where both quarterbacks did enjoy a solid modicum of success was in terms of Average Intended Air Yards (the average Air Yards a passer throws on all attempts), as both ranked in the top-10 with identical marks of 8.8.

Running Back Play

Let's start with the clearer running back situation of the two teams, which resides in Green Bay.

While Aaron Jones didn't carry the rock as often as fantasy owners wanted last year with only 133 carries, in terms of ball carriers with 100 or more carries (47), he ranked fourth-best in the entire league in terms of Rushing NEP per carry (0.15), and he ranked second-best in terms of Rushing Success Rate (50.38%). He's very good.

The Chicago situation seems a bit more unclear, but it appears likely that David Montgomery could be the lead rusher, with Tarik Cohen continuing to operate as a pass specialist. Cohen carried the ball 99 times with a Rushing NEP per attempt mark of only 0.01 a year ago. However, his value clearly resides as a pass catcher, where he was a major weapon with 71 catches for 725 receiving yards.

The new kid on the block, Montgomery, was an absolute workhorse his last two seasons at Iowa State. He carried the ball a combined 515 times, rushing for 2,362 yards and 24 touchdowns. Our experts rank Montgomery as the 22nd-best running back in season-long fantasy this year, and we project him to go for 66 yards in his debut.

It looks like both teams have solid run games, so how can these defenses hold up?

Defensive Matchup

Last season, the Bears made a splashy trade to bolster their team by acquiring Khalil Mack, and he certainly did not disappoint in leading a strong defensive unit.

Chicago was one of the league's best defenses in 2018, checking in second overall while sitting third against the pass and four against the run, according to our schedule-adjusted numbers The Packers, meanwhile, weren't as hot on the defensive side of the ball. They ranked 22nd overall as a team, and while they were very strong against the run (8th), they were fifth-worst against the pass.

Both teams were fantastic at harassing opposing quarterbacks. Using Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate, Chicago ranked 12th in the league (7.5%), while Green Bay was slightly better, ranking 10th (7.7%). Chicago did tie for third in sacks (50), while Green Bay was slightly behind them, tied for 8th (44).

Historical Comparisons

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