BEARS // PACKERS OVERVIEW
The initial line for this game played into the public’s love of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, with the Packers installed originally as 9-point favorites, with a Vegas-implied total of 28.5; since the line was posted, the Packers’ Vegas-implied total has dropped to 27.75 as eight-point favorites. Aaron Rodgers is awesome. So is Bears’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio…
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Last year, the Packers finished the season ranked eighth in the NFL in yards allowed per carry and allowed a rushing touchdown to opposing running backs at a rate of only 0.5 per game. They allowed above-average fantasy production to the position on FantasyDraft, FanDuel, and DraftKings, but that was largely due to them allowing the sixth-most receptions to the position. This creates an interesting situation — and an interesting test to begin the season — for Jordan Howard, who new head coach Matt Nagy has said he wants to feature in the pass game. Howard has struggled with drops at both the college level and the pros, but Nagy has poured praise on him throughout the offseason for his “work” in this area — talking up the extra time Howard has put into become a better receiver. This will be our first opportunity to see if this is a “square peg in a round hole” situation, or if Howard is indeed ready to expand his game.
Last year as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, Nagy was a big part of game-planning, but he was handcuffed from play-calling until the last five games of the season, when Andy Reid finally handed over those responsibilities. What happened after that is instructive:
In that first game, Kareem Hunt touched the ball only 12 times (nine carries and three catches), but in the next three games (before basically resting in the regular season finale), Hunt had touch totals of 28, 31, and 33 — an absolutely insane workload, and a reminder that when Nagy says he wants to give Howard a chance to play on all three downs, he likely means it. The Bears’ O-line finished 28th in adjusted line yards last season, but PFF has them ranked as an average unit heading into this year. All things considered, this is not a great spot for Howard, and he doesn’t stand out on the full-Sunday slate on FantasyDraft; but his expected workload does give him big upside, making him a very viable guy to consider in tourneys. He’s also very much in play in the Showdown (one game) and Prime Time (three game) slates.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
It’s tough to carry over too much from last year’s Packers’ pass defense with Dom Capers now out of the defensive coordinator office, but from a talent standpoint they are non-threatening, and we should head into this year viewing them as a fairly neutral matchup (with room to bump them up or down over the next few weeks).
What we do know is that Nagy has brought in an offensive system that should play to the strengths of Mitchell Trubisky — allowing him to essentially function as the point guard of the offense, getting the ball out quickly on short, well-schemed passes. We don’t have enough exposure to Nagy just yet to say that he can adjust his scheme based on the talent he has, but we do know that the scheme he ran in Kansas City last year will suit the strengths of Trubisky nicely, and Nagy has done a great job of collecting players who can help him replicate what he had to work with in KC.
The Chiefs allowed their offense to flow primarily through three players last year: Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill.
The Hunt role is filled capably by Howard, as discussed above.
The Bears signed Trey Burton to a big free agent contract after he backed up Zach Ertz the last few years, and I fully expect him to finish as a top five tight end this year if he remains healthy. He will play the “F” tight end position (what Nagy calls the “U”), which led to Kelce lining up in the slot on over 50% of his snaps last year. I genuinely believe we can copy-and-paste Kelce’s target expectations for the year into a box labeled “Burton.” He’ll be a big part of the game plan each week, and while Green Bay was above-average against tight ends last year, Burton — at only 7.5% of the salary cap on FantasyDraft — is a lock-and-load cash game play for me on the full-Sunday slate. It goes without saying that he’s a strong option in Showdown and Prime Time slates on the other two sites.
The Hill role is more difficult to predict in this offense, as Nagy has both Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel, who can both take on pieces of that role. “Pieces of that role” will be the key, I believe, as the Chiefs proactively schemed the ball to Hill on short passes each game to get the ball in his hands, and then took a couple shots each game as well. I think the likeliest distribution on this team will be for Cohen to see the short looks and Gabriel to see the deep looks — with each posting a couple big games this season, but with no rhyme or reason to when or how those big games will occur.
Things are further complicated by the arrival of free agent Allen Robinson and rookie stud Anthony Miller. Miller should man the slot — a role that could generate anywhere from four to eight targets per game, with some YAC upside. Robinson has not looked great in camp, but his talent is undeniable.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
Chicago was decent against the run last year, ranking 12th in yards allowed per carry and 13th in DVOA — leaving them as a team against which we should neither raise nor lower fantasy expectations.
When Aaron Jones returns from his suspension in a few weeks, this backfield will become difficult to figure out, as Jones has shown himself to be the more talented back between he and Jamaal Williams, but for the moment the early-down work will belong to Williams alone. Williams averaged only 3.63 yards per carry last season, and in eight games working as the lead back, he topped 67 rushing yards only twice; but the workload should be there, as he topped 20 touches in six of those eight games — grabbing five or more receptions in half of them.
Ty Montgomery should work on third downs, but his carries will be limited. He has big-play upside, making him viable in the Showdown slates, but Fangio’s defenses are notoriously disciplined, and broken plays are tough to come by.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
Rodgers vs Fangio is one of my favorite matchups, as the Vikings were the only team in the NFL last year that allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bears, and only four teams allowed fewer passing touchdowns. The Bears were solidly above-average in both average depth of target and yards allowed after the catch, and they held quarterbacks to 84.4% of league-average fantasy production on DraftKings and FantasyDraft last year, while holding them to 85.7% of league-average production on FanDuel.
Here are Rodgers’ five career stat lines against Fangio’s Bears (units that had less talent than this year’s squad):
18 of 26, for 179 yards and four touchdowns
19 of 31 for 252 yards and zero touchdowns
39 of 56 for 323 yards and three touchdowns
22 of 43 for 202 yards and one touchdown
18 of 23 for 189 yards and three touchdowns
As you can see, Rodgers’ floor is lower against the Bears than it is against other teams — making him a riskier investment than normal; but he’s still Aaron Rodgers, which means his ceiling remains intact.
As Rodgers goes, so go his receivers — so the statement from the previous paragraph can be applied here: they are riskier investments than normal, but they do still retain their ceiling. Last year, Chicago held wide receivers to below-average fantasy outputs on all three sites. Davante Adams should finish this season in the top 10 in targets per game — with somewhere in the range of eight to 10 looks on average — and he’ll likely finish the year in the top five in red zone targets as well. Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison are afterthoughts, but Cobb has a decent floor and Allison has a decent ceiling if you’re forced to go here on the Showdown slate. Jimmy Graham is going to take work away from both guys, as the Packers are going to use him in the slot to create mismatches, and are going to use him sporadically between the 20s while featuring him heavily in the red zone. Only five teams allowed fewer touchdowns to the tight end last year than the Bears, but while that lowers Graham’s floor (i.e., making it less likely he will hit), he does retain his ceiling — same as the rest of the Packers pass attack.
The only strong play on paper from this game is Trey Burton, with Jordan Howard carrying some serious tourney intrigue, and with Rodgers, Adams, and Graham all in the “bet on talent” bucket. Jamaal Williams’ workload makes him a locked-in play on the Showdown slate, but his inefficient production on the ground makes him tough to trust in the bigger slates. You could also try to guess right on usage among Cohen / Gabriel / Robinson / Miller — and you may have to do so if you force in some entries on the Showdown slate — but on paper, all of these guys shape up as iffy Week 1 plays.