Terry O’ Neill, who helped turn John Madden into a worldwide superstar with CBS Sports in the 1980s, once directed a distributor to always put the Green Bay Packers on Chicago stations whenever the Bears weren’t playing simultaneously. The idea was that if Windy City fans didn’t have the Monsters of the Midway to cheer for, they darn sure could have a time cheering against the rival Packers. Ratings in the upper Midwest blew sky-high.
Rivalries of that magnitude are something the NFL could lay an even bigger claim to. College football’s conference rivalries are great, but the teams should actually be cheering for each other to win all out-of-conference games, because a rising tide can lift all boats. NFL fans can all cheer for their fiercest rivals to lose every game and never feel guilty if it happens. Chicago’s losses are Green Bay’s gains in the NFC North and vice-versa, until (God forbid) pro football’s postseason slots are determined by rankings and committees.
Another thing about NFL rivalry games is that they tend to be closely-contested no matter what, as observed in the tense outcomes between Philadelphia and the New York Giants over the past couple of years.
Of course, neither the Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers have won or lost a game yet prior to Thursday’s NFL-kickoff contest at Soldier Field, but just because it’s not a 3-9 vs 9-3 style match-up doesn’t mean Las Vegas lines on the underdog can’t open long and close much shorter.
Chicago was originally a (-200) favorite to prevail at home against a Green Bay franchise in turmoil with the departure of long-time skipper Mike McCarthy. But the moneyline and the point spread alike are drawing tight with the betting action, and the Packers are only a field-goal underdog less than 3 days prior to the prime-time gala.
Who: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
When: Thursday, September 5th, 8:20 PM EST
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Lines: GB (+3) at CHI (-3) / O/U Total: (46)
I like the Bears as a weekly pick-to-consider thanks to Sin City’s enduring prejudice against QBs like Mitch Trubisky. When Trubisky puts his head down and runs for a 1st down, there’s a % of NFL handicappers out there who see it as a negative. But if someone lied and showed them a stat line with every 1st-down scramble as a completed pass instead, they’d be higher on the guy.
A running QB may never prove to be a long-term solution for a franchise. But wagers are made in the here and now. Furthermore, the Bears look strong at other positions in ’19.
Chicago relinquished multiple picks in this year’s draft while trading for star linebacker Khalil Mack. That’s only going to make a crushing defense even better in the short-run.
Speaking of running, Jordan Howard’s departure left the team with a need at RB in the offseason. The Bears addressed the hole in the depth chart by trading up to snag David Montgomery at #73 overall. Chicago may have also helped Trubisky with the selection of Georgia WR Riley Ridley, while the team’s hard-nosed (and often 11-on-11) ground game is a boon to the offensive line and pass blocking.
Meanwhile, a new era begins for the visiting Pack with head coach Matt LaFleur taking over the helm. Cheeseheads hope LaFleur’s offensive pedigree – with the skipper having learned from Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan – will spark Aaron Rodgers back into championship form. It might help to build a title-worthy offensive line that can keep “Rah-gahs!” upright and not hobbling to commercial-shoots on crutches half the time.
Instead, the woebegone Packers have been busy upgrading the defense. Despite losing longtime linebacker Clay Matthews, the additions of linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith could give Green Bay a ready-made lethal combo. The acquisition of Adrian Amos is also expected to improve the Pack’s pass defense.
Top draft pick Darnell Savage also looks to add toughness and physicality at safety.
Focusing on the D might not be a direct way to impact Rodgers’ future health and stability. But a new playbook will draw fresh enthusiasm to the chalkboard, and Davante Adams will be catching lots of those devilish RAC-friendly tosses from the veteran QB to keep the chains moving in ’19.
NFL players are not big fans of Thursday Night Football, not even in Week 1, when athletes playing the Thursday opener are robbed of another 3 days to prepare their bodies. For that reason, and because the Packers are playing a conservative/defense-oriented opponent with new Xs and Os on enemy turf, I’m expecting a tentative 1st quarter with few points scored.
After that, things should loosen up as each QB takes advantage of fresh offensive backfields and WR corps which have not yet been hit with inevitable rashes of mid-season injury.
I recommend an in-play wager on a falling O/U total early in the 2nd quarter.