The Bears will open the regular season Sunday night by visiting the rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Here are four storylines to watch:
(1) What exactly will the Bears' new offense look like?
After the Bears kept their playbook and key players generally under wraps throughout the season, the mystery that is the team's new offense will finally be unveiled in a game that counts in the standings Sunday night in Green Bay. It's no secret that the new scheme is similar to the one the Chiefs run given that new Bears coach Matt Nagy served as Kansas City's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator the past five years. While there's a perception that the system is pass-oriented, last season the Chiefs boasted not only the NFL's leading quarterback in Alex Smith with a 104.7 passer rating but also the top rusher in Kareem Hunt with 1,327 yards.
Promising second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky leads the offense, which was bolstered by several new weapons during the offseason. Looking to put Trubisky in the best possible position to succeed, the Bears signed receivers Allen Robinson II and Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton in free agency and selected receiver Anthony Miller in the second round of the draft. Key returnees include running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, who form one of the NFL's best 1-2 punches in the backfield. The Bears also return four of five starting offensive linemen in left tackle Charles Leno Jr., center Cody Whitehair, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Bobby Massie. The only new starter is left guard Eric Kush.
(2) How will Trubisky fare in the first season-opening start of his career?
One year after arriving at training camp as a rookie third-stringer, Trubisky is the Bears' undisputed starting quarterback. The team's 2017 first-round draft has taken ownership of that role, gaining the respect of his teammates by showing leadership on and off the field. Throughout training camp and limited preseason action, Trubisky showed poise, command in the huddle and a strong grasp of the new offense. Nagy has not hesitated to throw a lot at Trubisky, but the Bears coach has pared down the plays he will call Sunday night, specifically tailoring a game plan for what should work best for Trubisky and against the Packers.
Trubisky is looking to build off a solid rookie season. He replaced Mike Glennon as the Bears' No. 1 quarterback following a Week 4 loss in Green Bay and started the final 12 games, setting team rookie passing records with 196 completions and 2,193 yards. The North Carolina product possesses a strong arm, the athleticism to extend plays and the ability to throw with accuracy while on the run. In his only start last season against the Packers, Trubisky completed 21 of 35 passes for 297 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a 97.0 passer rating.
(3) How much will new linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith play after both missed all of training camp and the preseason?
The acquisitions of Mack and Smith have bolstered a Bears defense that returned all of its key starters from a unit that ranked ninth in the NFL in points allowed and 10th in total yards last season. But it's unclear how much the two new linebackers will play Sunday night given that they both missed all of training camp and the preseason due to contract holdouts.
Mack and Smith both have the potential to be game-changing impact players. Mack is a three-time Pro Bowler and 2016 NFL defensive player of the year who recorded 40.5 sacks the past four seasons with the Raiders. Smith won the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker last year at Alabama after registering 85 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 14.0 tackles-for-loss.
Mack's presence at outside linebacker figures to make his teammates better, given that his ability often requires opponents to double- and triple-team him. Mack and Smith are part of a strong front seven that also includes defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, nose tackle Eddie Goldman, end Jonathan Bullard, inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
(4) Will the Bears be able to turn things around against the Packers and Aaron Rodgers?
The Packers have dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning 14 of the last 16 games since 2010. Both Bears wins during that span have come in Green Bay—by scores of 27-20 in 2013 and 17-13 in 2015. Rodgers has owned the Bears throughout his career, winning 13 of the last 14 games he's started and finished against them. He has also thrown for 21 touchdowns and just one interception in his last eight starts versus the Bears. In Week 4 last season, the two-time NFL MVP threw four TD passes to lead the Packers to a 35-14 win over the Bears at Lambeau Field.
With a revamped offense led by a promising young quarterback and a strong defense, the Bears are seemingly in position to turn things around against their fiercest rival. But they know that appearing improved on paper doesn't mean a thing if they can't back it up on the field, something they're determined to do in Sunday night's season opener.