Oh man, football is back, and we are getting a treat to kick off the 2019 season with a showdown between NFC North rivals in the Chicago Bears and the 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 hair back at 11th.
Who will come out on top on this matchup? Let’s dig in and find out.
2018 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 passers will be hungry for strong 2019 seasons.
Among the 33 quarterbacks who recorded at least 250 dropbacks 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 dropbacks which result in a positive NEP — both signal-callers struggled a bit in this category. 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 is in terms of Average Intended Air Yards (IAY; the average Air Yards a passer throws on all attempts), as both ranked in the top-10 with identical IAY marks of 8.8.
With no real advantage for either team at the quarterback position, how do the running games stack up?
Running Back Play
Let’s start with the clearer running back situation of the two teams, which resides with Green Bay.
While he didn’t seem to carry the rock as often as fantasy owners had liked 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%).
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 — 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, and we project the running back for 66 yards in his debut.
It looks like both teams have solid run games, so how can these defences hold up?
.@LateRoundQB is back with another bold prediction for the 2019 fantasy football season.
— Paddy Power Fantasy (@PPFantasy) September 4, 2019
Last season, the Bears made the splashy trade to bolster their team by acquiring Khalil Mack, and he certainly did not disappoint in leading a strong defensive unit.
Last season, Chicago was one of the league’s best team defences, checking in 2nd overall and ranking 3rd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and 4th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. 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 and in looking at 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 rank tied for third in sacks overall (50), while Green Bay was slightly behind them at tied for 8th (44).
One of the best parts about teams that meet, at a minimum, twice a season is that there’s a history we can draw from. According to our models, the game that correlates the strongest is this December contest between these same two teams.
In mid-December of last season, Green Bay travelled to Chicago with a hobbled Rodgers, and this was a back-and-forth affair. The Bears eliminated their long-time nemesis with a tight seven-point victory, thanks 235 passing yards and two touchdown passes, which was just enough to claim victory.
In this matchup, the home Bears will reprise the role of themselves, leading to a cover and the under hitting as well.