Tonight, the NFL’s 100th season begins with the Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears. Since the NFL launched in 1920, no other rivalry has contained more vivid history than the these teams. And since Aaron Rodgers became a starter in 2008, few NFL rivalries have carried as many playoff implications.
Rodgers and rookie Packers head coach Matt LaFleur this week make the 34-minute flight to Chicago, where the Bears will host Thursday’s historic opener. The Packers have 56 wins on Kickoff Weekend, most in the NFL, including the longest active streak in the NFC, four games. Chicago’s 54 Kickoff Weekend wins rank second.
Victory at venerable Soldier Field
The league’s oldest stadium, has proven significant during the Rodgers era. In nine of the last 10 years, the winner of the lakefront game between these clubs has advanced to the playoffs. In seven of the last nine seasons, the winner of this Soldier Field game has gone on to win the division. And in 2010, a Windy City win in the NFC Championship also gave the Packers a trip to Super Bowl XLV.
A different team has won the NFC North each of the last three years, the NFL’s only division with that distinction, and the division hasn’t seen a repeat winner since 2014.
Entering this year, the Bears are kings of that hill after capturing the NFC North under their own rookie head coach, Matt Nagy, and second-year starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the second-overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. On the path to the postseason, Chicago finished 12-4 to capture the NFC’s No. 3 seed, joining the Houston Texans (AFC South) as the two teams to complete a “worst-to-first” turnaround in 2018. In 15 of the past 16 seasons, at least one team has won its division the season after finishing in last place.
Thursday also marks the Bears’ first game under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
The former Colts head coach inherits a unit that led the NFL in fewest points allowed (17.7 per game), takeaways (36), interceptions (27), interception touchdowns (five), fewest rushing yards (80.0 per game) and fewest net yards per pass play (5.3). Kyle Fuller tied for the league lead with seven interceptions and Eddie Jackson tied for the league lead with two interception-touchdowns. Meanwhile, Khalil Mack (12.5 in 2018) is one of just three NFL players with at least 10 sacks in each of the last three seasons.
The NFL’s 100th season
So here it is, the season officially kicks off. Will you be staying up to catch the game? Or like me, will you catch the highlights via GamePass in the morning? Got any predictions – share them in the comments below.