After an offseason flurry, the Chicago Bears face a stiff test in Week 1. Instead of showcasing their fancy offense and brand-new pass rusher at home, they travel north to take on the rival Green Bay Packers in primetime.
Playtime is almost over, Bears fans.
All the gushing over acquiring Khalil Mack and the offseason additions on offense ends Sunday night. From the kickoff, the Bears must show they can compete against their biggest foe, who has dominated them for last 10 years.
Since Aaron Rodgers took the reins at quarterback in 2008, the Packers have won 17 of 21 matchups against the Bears. That record includes the infamous NFC Championship game in January 2011.
The Packers season sweep last year bolstered their overall record against Chicago to 96-94-6, putting the Bears on the losing side of the rivalry for the first time since 1932. Prior to Rodgers being the starting quarterback, the Bears had a 90-79-6 record against the Packers.
Four wins in 10 seasons!? That’s not a rivalry. That’s an old-fashion ass-whoopin’.
For a rivalry to be a true rivalry, it requires consistent back-and-forth. Both teams should be trading off wins frequently and competing for division titles. Unfortunately, the Packers have flexed their muscles while the Bears have played dead.
When the Bears fired former GM Jerry Angelo after the 2011 season, they cited the need to close the gap with the Packers.
“Ultimately, we look at our division and say: ‘We need to close that talent gap,'” Bears president Ted Philips said in January 2012. “And that’s what we need to do, and I think the way to do that right now is a fresh start and a new look at our team.”
Since 2012, they’ve made a ton of noteworthy moves to try and “close that talent gap.” Prior to this offseason, some of those included:
- January 2012 – Hiring Phil Emery as GM
- March 2012 – Trading two third-round picks for Brandon Marshall*
- April 2012 – Drafting Shea McClellin*, Alshon Jeffery*, Brandon Hardin*, Evan Rodriguez*, Isaiah Frey*, Greg McCoy*
- December 2012 – Firing head coach Lovie Smith
- January 2013 – Hiring Marc Trestman as head coach
- March 2013 – Signing free agents Martellus Bennett*, Jermon Bushrod*, Matt Slauson*, D.J. Williams*
- April 2013 – Drafting Kyle Long, Jon Bostic*, Khaseem Greene*, Jordan Mills*, Cornelius Washington*, Marquess Wilson*
- January 2014 – Signing Jay Cutler to a seven-year, $126 million with $54 million guaranteed
- March 2014 – Signing Lamar Houston* and Jared Allen*
- May 2014 – Drafting Kyle Fuller, Ego Ferguson*, Will Sutton*, Ka’Deem Carey*, Brock Vereen*, David Fales*, Pat O’Donnell and Charles Leno Jr.
- December 2014 – Firing Emery and Trestman
- January 2015 – Hiring Ryan Pace as GM and John Fox as head coach
- March 2015 – Signing Antrel Rolle*, Eddie Royal*, Sam Acho, Ray McDonald*, Mason Foster* and Alan Ball*
- April 2015 – Drafting Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu*, Jeremy Langford*, Adrian Amos, Tayo Fabuluje*
- May 2015 – Releasing McDonald on charges of domestic violence and child endangerment
- September 2015 – Acquiring Khari Lee* from Texans for future draft pick and trading Allen to the Panthers and Bostic to the Patriots.
- March 2016 – Signing Danny Trevathan, Bobby Massie, Akiem Hicks, Jerrell Freeman*, Brian Hoyer*
- April 2016 – Drafting Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jonathan Bullard, Deon Bush, Deiondre’ Hall*, Jordan Howard, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Daniel Braverman*
- September 2016 – Releasing Robbie Gould and signing Josh Sitton* and Connor Barth*
- March 2017 – Releasing Cutler and signing Mike Glennon*, Markus Wheaton*, Quintin Demps*, Dion Sims, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Kendall Wright*
- April 2017 – Drafting Mitchell Trubisky, Adam Shaheen, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Morgan*
- January 2018 – Extending Pace, fired Fox and hiring Matt Nagy as head coach
*Notes player is no longer with team.
Yet, all those general managers, coaches and player acquisitions have only widened the gap since 2012.
In the last six seasons, the Bears have had a 39-57 record, no playoff berths and four consecutive last places finished in the division. The Packers, on the other hand, have a 58-37-1 record with five playoff berths and four division titles during that same stretch.
So why look at the past? As Mike Ditka once famously said, “the past is for cowards and losers.” In this case, the past six seasons show a disturbing trend. No matter how many moves the Bears have, they haven’t been able to beat or even consistently compete against the Packers.
The additions of Nagy, Mack, Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, Roquan Smith and Anthony Miller should have Bears fans feeling optimistic. Just be cautious too. We’ve seen it firsthand that change doesn’t always equal success.
However, that doesn’t mean the latest moves aren’t going to change the tide. There are some very encouraging signs that Bears could be turning a corner and putting themselves in a position to compete with the Packers.
The biggest difference when comparing Pace’s tenure to past regimes is that he’s hit on some key draft picks. And while he went on a spending spree this past offseason, the players he added were younger and just entering their primes.
Under Emery, for example, the Bears missed on a lot of picks in his four draft classes. He acquired many flashy names in free agency or through trades, as well. However, the names he brought in were over the hill or head cases.
Also, the addition of Nagy adds fresh blood the franchise hasn’t seen in years. Despite only being 40, his 10-year tutelage under an offensive mind like Andy Reid is encouraging. When you combine Nagy’s enthusiasm and charisma with the success rate of coaches from Reid’s tree, it bodes well for him.
Nagy has the chance to mold Mitchell Trubisky, which is the biggest reason he is in Chicago. The franchise hasn’t had a game-changing quarterback since Sid Luckman, and they’ve defined offensive ineptitude for years.
Nagy’s offensive system seems to suit his young QB’s strengths to perfection. With significant upgrades at receiver, both Trubisky and the offense have a great chance to grow by leaps and bounds this season.
On defense, coordinator Vic Fangio returns with 10 starters from 2017. Even without a Pro-Bowler, the unit finished in the top 10 unit last season and tied for seventh in sacks. After adding Mack last weekend, the Bears fill a major void at edge rusher. Given Fangio’s track record of coaching elite pass rushers, the defense could be a top-tier unit in 2018.
The pieces appear to be in place, but now they have to come together and show it on the field. A win or even a competitive loss against the Packers on Sunday would jump start the rivalry and help change the losing culture that haunts the franchise.
While a loss in week one certainly doesn’t break a season, seeing a lopsided beatdown at the hands of Green Bay would pour cold water on the excitement resonating throughout the fan base.
Hopefully, Sunday’s game is the first step toward changing the narrative.