Bears kick off historic NFL campaign with Super hopes

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As the NFL celebrates its 100th season, the Chicago Bears fittingly take the field against their arch-rival Green Bay Packers Thursday night at Soldier Field with lofty ambitions.

While the sting has subsided from last January’s heartbreaking home playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the memories remain. The Bears have spent the offseason searching for a kicker and retooling a running game that figures to be prominent beginning with the season opener.

Chicago returns almost all of last year’s key players that brought an NFC North Division championship to the Windy City, including a stellar defense headlined by All-Pro Khalil Mack and Pro Bowlers Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson. Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano’s transition to taking over for Vic Fangio appears seamless.

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On offense, Mitch Trubisky will be asked to take the next step in his quarterback progression, namely displaying the ability to go from a caretaker role to a dangerous playmaker. Entering his third year, Trubisky has shown glimpses of becoming a dual threat. He’ll be joined in the backfield by newcomers Mike Davis and rookie David Montgomery, though Montgomery should become the feature back early in the year given his skill set.

Against the backdrop of pomp and circumstance with the NFL’s centennial season, the Bears face a nemesis in Aaron Rodgers and the Packers that has been tough to beat. Green Bay comes into the opener with a fresh look, as former Titans offensive coordinator and Sean McVay disciple Matt LaFleur takes over the head coaching reigns from longtime fixture Mike McCarthy.

Green Bay has retooled its roster, primarily on defense, after missing the playoffs the last two seasons. The Packers invested in free agency, importing former Bears safety Adrian Amos and former Ravens OLB Za’Darius Smith, to shore up the attack unit.

The Packers have 56 wins on Kickoff

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Weekend, most in the NFL, including the longest active streak in the NFC, four games. Chicago’s 54 Kickoff Weekend wins rank second.

As an added incentive and important reminder for both clubs, victory at venerable Soldier Field, the league’s oldest stadium, has proven significant during the Rodgers era. In nine of the last 10 years, the winner of the lakefront game between these clubs has advanced to the playoffs. In seven of the last nine seasons, the winner of this Soldier Field game has gone on to win the division. And in 2010, a Windy City win in the NFC Championship also gave the Packers a trip to Super Bowl XLV.

Bear Tracks: LB KHALIL MACK led team with 12.5 sacks in 2018, tied 3rd -most in single season by Bears player since 1982. Had 3.5 sacks, FF & 27-yard INT-TD in 2 games vs. GB last season. Aims for his 4th in row vs. GB with sack. Has 49 sacks since 2015, tied 3rd-most in NFL. ..LB ROQUAN SMITH was 1 of 2 rookies (DARIUS LEONARD) with 100+ tackles (121) & 5+ sacks (5) last season… DT AKIEM HICKS is 1 of 4 DTs with 7+ sacks in each of past 3 seasons & has 23 sacks since 2016, 5th-most among DTs…CB KYLE FULLER tied for NFL lead with careerhigh 7 INTs & ranked 1st with 21 PD last season…S EDDIE JACKSON led NFL with 3 defensive TDs & had career-high 15 PD in 2018… S HA HA CLINTON-DIX makes Chi. debut. Had 25 PD, 14 INTs & 3 FFs in 5 seasons (2014-18) with GB.

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