Bears vs. Packers: Thursday September 5th
The new look Green Bay Packers take on the largely intact Chicago Bears tonight in the first game of the 2019 NFL season. Brian looks for these two teams to be in a fight for the division (with the Vikings and Lions) all season.
The Packers offense features a healthy, 35 year old, future Hall of Fame QB in Aaron Rodgers; Aaron Jones (averaged 5.5 yards per carry through his first 24 NFL games); and top 10 receiver Devante Adams (1186 yards; 111 catches; 13 TD’s last year). Jimmy Graham looks to re-boot his career in his second year with Green Bay and Marques Valdes Scantling and Geronimo Allison look to provide a balanced set of weapons. Matt LaFleur, first year head coach, will bring a more balanced run/pass mix to Green Bay who was one of the NFL leaders in pass attempts last year. The Packers O Line added right guard Billy Turner (4 years, $28MM). Rodgers hopes to approach his stats from 2016 (last full healthy year) of 4400 yards passing and 40 TD’s but LaFleur, a Kyle Shanahan disciple, will want more balance-We expect Aaron Jones to approach 1500 yards of total offense.
The Packers Defense could be much improved this season with the acquisition of strong side LB Zadarius Smith ($66MM); weak side LB Preston Smith ($54MM); and rookie edge rusher Rashan Gary getting after the QB. Rookie Safety Darnell Savage and free agent Adrian Amos strengthen the safety corps. The Packers have Amos and five first or second round draft picks (all from 2017-19) in their secondary which should improve dramatically this season.
The Bears offense, 10 starters return, features Mitch Trubisky at QB. He has a lot of potential but only started 13 games in college and is still adapting to the Matt Nagy, KC Chiefs influenced play book. Allen Robinson (754 yards) is the #1 Bears receiver with Taylor Gabriel #2 (slot man) and Anthony Miller (423 yards last year as a rookie). Tight end Trey Burton (569 yards) is injured/questionable but Brian loves receiver Riley Ridley who may see more action. The running backs are rookie David Montgomery, (5 foot 10 inches, 222 lbs) who helped turn around the Iowa State program and Mike Davis. Super fast Tarik Cohen is the third down specialist and Cordelle Patterson brings excitement to the return game. The Bears offense will go as far as Trubisky can take them with Robinson likely getting 100+ targets..
The Bears Defense, 9 starters return, will likely approach last years elite status. Edge rusher Mack, Safety Jackson and CB Fuller were first team All Pro’s; DL Hicks was an all pro and MLB Smith; DL Goldman and Edge rusher Floyd have all pro potential. The Defense lost its leader, coordinator Fangio who got the head coaching job in Denver and took a number of assistants with him. Chuck Pagano, former Colts head coach, replaces Fangio whose defense forced 36 turnovers last year. The two new Bear defenders, safety Clinton Dix and slot corner Skrine are likely downgrades but this defense should still be excellent.
The Bears kicking game is another matter, Eddie Piniero beat out 8 others for the kicking job to replace “double doink” Cody Parky. If the game comes down to a final kick-advantage Packers.
Brian expects a very close game in Chicago with the Bears winning 21-17 with a Trubisky late touchdown pass to Allen Robinson. While Rodgers throws for 250 yards and a touchdown that terrific Bears D clamps down in the 4th quarter with a key sack by Khalil Mack spoiling the comeback. We look forward to seeing if there are any major differences in the Packers offense under LaFleur, but we are guessing it may take a few games to gel, especially with the pressure the Bears bring.
#4 Ohio State takes on University of Cincinnati (UC) in the “Luke Fickel bowl” Saturday at noon
Luke Fickel (UC’s head coach) was a terrific player for Ohio State who later served on the Buckeyes staff for 15 years under Jim Tressel (9 years) and Urban Meyer before taking the head coaching job at UC and leading them to an 11-2 record last year. Note: Fickel replaced Mark Dantonio at OSU in 2004 when Dantonio took the UC job (before moving to Michigan State in 2006). UC looked impressive against UCLA last week, especially on defense, but faces a very tough Ohio State offense this week-led by dual threat QB Justin Fields (229 yds. passing, 4 TD’s and 66 yards rushing with 1 TD last week) and running back JK Dobbins (1053 yards last year while splitting carries with Weber). The UC Defense is led by coordinator Marcus Freeman who played at Ohio State before going to the NFL. OSU is a 16 point favorite.
Brian believes that Ohio State will pull away in the 4th quarter as their depth and athleticism on both sides of the ball will win out, final score 27-17. UC is Ohio State’s toughest non conference opponent and with all of the coaching and player familiarity the Buckeyes will not be looking past the Bearcats. Justin Fields accuracy will be tested by an impressive UC secondary but Ohio State starts three senior wide outs.
#1 Clemson hosts #12 Texas A&M Aggies Saturday at 3:30PM
Clemson beat A&M at Kyle Field last year 28-26 when a two point conversion failed with less than one minute left. A&M QB Mond threw for 430 yards (330 in the second half) and ran for 36 more with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Mond had 4TD’s and 194 yards passing last week in limited action against Texas State. Brian expects sophomore RB Jashuan Corbin to pick up where Traveyon Williams left off last year and the Clemson D line is not as strong (all 4 starters last year left for NFL). All 3 A&M recivers return and O Line is experienced so Mond should be able to move the ball but some believe Clemson’s secondary is now the strength of their Defense with only one inexperienced corner (Kendrick). While only 4 starters return on D Brian expects Madubuike and Brown to have great years.
Clemson is a 17.5 favorite. Brian expects Lawrence (168 yds last week in limited duty vs. Ga Tech) and Etienne (205 yards on 12 carries last week) will wear down the young A&M Defense. The Clemson receiver corps is elite, Etienne is a Heisman candidate and their O line is terrific. Net, Brian expects Clemson to win a close one 35-31 as Jimbo usually keeps Clemson losses very close.
#10 Texas hosts #7 LSU at 7PM
Tom Herman, Texas HC recruited Joe Burrow to Ohio State but left for Houston before he could coach Burrow. Since that time Burrow lost out to Dwayne Haskins and transferred to LSU while Herman moved from Houston to UT. Burrow threw for 5 TD’s before half time last week against GA Southern.
One big difference between the teams coming into Saturday will be the health of the running backs: LSU has five guys healthy while Texas has only one healthy true RB: Keontay Ingram. With 4 RB’s out for Saturday the second string RB is third string QB Roshon Johnson who had 7 carries for 26 yards and 2 catches for 14 last week. Johnson has good size 6 foot 2 inches/220 lbs. but Texas may have to throw more than normal. Texas threw 43 times (274 yards, 4TD’s) and ran 30 times last week, will they need to pass even more against a terrific LSU secondary? LSU is a 5.5 point favorite on the road.
The LSU offense should open up under new coordinator Joe Brady but Brian expects Burrow to take a few games to adjust away from home. Brian sees a big running day for Ehlinger and Ingram and a key TD catch for 6 foot 6 inch Collin Johnson late (against LSU’s elite secondary) with the Longhorns winning in an upset 27-24. Watch out for a special teams touchdown from Texas ace Caden Stearns in this one.