NFC North threats: Bears beware, Packers aren’t dead yet

Green Bay always has a chance as long as Aaron Rodgers is around, and there will be new twists with first-year coach Matt LaFleur.

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Rodgers had 25 touchdowns and two interceptions last season.

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In Part 2 of a 3-part series breaking down the NFC North on the eve of the 2019 season, the Sun-Times’ Jason Lieser looks at the Green Bay Packers.

Record last year: 6-9-1 (third in NFC North)

The Bears play them: Week 1, Sept. 5 at Soldier Field; Week 15, Dec. 15, at Lambeau Field

What’s new

After an ugly breakup between Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, the Packers brought in first-time head coach Matt LaFleur. His most recent work was overseeing a Titans offense that finished in the bottom eight in yardage and points last season. Problem solved?

Of course, LaFleur is bound to look smarter with Rodgers at quarterback than the guys he had in Tennessee, and the Packers believe he’s an ideal fit. He’ll implement a more creative, unpredictable offensive scheme that will maximize Rodgers’ abilities.

The Packers also plan to play defense this year, so that’s interesting. They haven’t been in the top 10 since 2010, and that’s the biggest reason they’ve failed to fully cash in on the Rodgers era.

Their best moves to that end were luring safety Adrian Amos from the Bears and drafting Michigan’s Rashan Gary 12th overall. He’s a 6-5, 277-pound outside linebacker whose potential far exceeds the 24 tackles for loss he posted in 35 college games.

Where they’re headed

To the fringe of the playoff field. The Packers aren’t close to the Bears’ overall talent and they’re still behind the Vikings, but they have a trump card in Rodgers. He’s far enough ahead of Mitch Trubisky and Kirk Cousins to offset a lot of deficiencies.

The Packers aren’t good enough to win the division, but they can certainly get to 10-6 and wrestle teams like the Cowboys and Falcons for a wild-card spot. The danger there, for the rest of the league, is the prospect of facing Rodgers in a playoff game.

One big question

Can the Packers keep Rodgers upright and healthy? One of the most striking ways in which the front office has betrayed its star quarterback lately is leaving him little protection.

Rodgers missed nine games due to injury in 2017 and survived last season despite being sacked a staggering 49 times, fifth-most in the league. It was the fourth time in the last 10 years he was sacked at least 45 times, and one of the seasons he didn’t hit that mark was when he played just seven games.

Green Bay always has a shot if it has Rodgers, but that’s a big if when he’s getting hit like this.

He could be a Bears killer

Amos. Green Bay saw him as a rising star at safety for the Bears and was all too eager to scoop him up in free agency with a four-year, $37 million contract. He had two interceptions, nine pass breakups and 73 tackles last season.

Not only is Amos a potential Pro Bowler, he’ll be highly motivated to stick it to the Bears and has extensive knowledge of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. No defensive back in the NFL has taken as many snaps against Trubisky as Amos got in practice the last two years.

Amos worked his way up as a fifth-round pick and is hitting his prime at 26. The Packers might have picked him up at exactly the right time.

Bears threat level

High. The Packers slumped to two straight third-place finishes, but before that they were first or second in the NFC North in 10 of 11 seasons. Rodgers shows no sign of decline at 35, and he’s 16-5 all-time against the Bears. The last time the Bears swept a season series against the Packers was 2007. Green Bay is always a potential pitfall.

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