The NFL has dispatched with recent tradition for the league's 100th year after selecting the Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears as the fixture to kick-off the new season on Thursday night.
The Super Bowl champions usually host the opening game of the following season, but the New England Patriots will instead stage the first Sunday Night Football prime time game this weekend against old rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead, this special season will begin in suitable fashion with two traditional old teams battling it out in the oldest rivalry in the NFL.
Soldier Field in Chicago, the oldest stadium in the league, will see the Bears and Packers renew hostilities for the 199th time in their famed histories - and even this early on it's a chance to send out a real marker for the season in what should be a hard-fought division.
Ultra competitive in the NFC North
The NFC North, in which both these teams compete, is the only one of the eight in the NFL that has seen three different teams finish top in the last three seasons - with the Minnesota Vikings joining these two in vying for top spot again, although Detroit will improve this season.
In fact, there hasn't been a back-to-back NFC North champions since 2014, and it's the Bears who will be trying to buck that trend after finishing top of the pile last season - when they were desperately unlucky not to progress further in the play-offs as Cody Parkey's failed game-winning kick hit post and crossbar before bouncing out.
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Both sides are strong on the opening day of the season - the Packers have the most wins in NFL history with 56 (including an NFC-best four in a row) while the Bears are second with 54, not surprising for two of the oldest teams out there but still strong numbers.
This fixture has provided an eye-catching amount of play-off pointers over the last decade, with nine of the last ten winners of this game at Soldier Field all making the post-season, and seven of those finishing top in the division.
How are Bears and Packers shaping up this season?
It's all change in Green Bay with superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing under a new coach for the first time in his career as Matt LaFleur takes over from Mike McCarthy. With Rodgers now entering almost veteran status the window for him to get to just a second Super Bowl is closing, and the team know that.
Frankly, with a player of his talent, having just one appearance in the big game is a massive underachievement so LaFleur will have to hit the ground running - but there are decent weapons around Rodgers with Davante Adams set for another huge year as his top receiving target.
It's in defence where the Packers have continually struggled and let Rodgers down over the last few years, when even some semblance of a rearguard action would’ve given him more of a chance of success.
If defence is the big flaw in the Packers, then it’s quite the opposite for the Bears, who look a lot more like their Monsters of the Midway moniker of yesteryear led by Khalil Mack. The big-money signing from Oakland had 12.5 sacks last season despite not really having a pre-season – imagine what he’ll do with a full summer’s work behind him!
Head coach Matt Nagy claimed the division in his rookie season with a second-year QB in Mitchell Trubisky. Both will improve for tasting play-off football last year, and having new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano with the team.
Not that the defence can get that much better – they led the league in fewest points allowed at just under 18 per game while they were a nightmare for opposing attacks as they were also the best in the NFL at turnovers (36), interceptions (27) and interception return touchdowns (5).
The hosts are rightly favourites, and worth siding with as we just don't know yet how the Rodgers-LaFleur relationship will go and this is as tough a road game as they'll face, despite it being just a half-hour flight away.
With Chicago's defence as it is, under the 46.5pt spread looks a lot more likely but with Rodgers and Adams about the Packers should certainly find the end zone. Bears rookie rusher David Montgomery will see plenty of action as they'll be a run-heavy outfit as they look to grind down their opponents.
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