Football is back … well, kind of. The first week of preseason games is set to kick off, and Thursday night features the Carolina Panthers (7-9 last season) traveling to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears (12-4 last season). While the first preseason games generally consist of very limited, if any, reps for the first-teamers, it does give fans an early opportunity to see their teams shake off some of the rust as they work towards Week 1 of the regular season. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 pm ET for this one.
For the Carolina Panthers, they will be looking to put together a full season this year. After starting 6-3 last season, the Panthers encountered a major skid and won only one more game, finishing at 7-9. With Ron Rivera and Norv Turner back at the helm, they will need to show they can produce; otherwise, they may find themselves on the hot seat.
While the stock of Rivera may have fallen, Matt Nagy’s couldn’t be any higher. After leading the Bears to a 12-4 record last season, the rookie head coach was honored as the Coach of the Year. With a defense led by Khalil Mack and another year of experience for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, expectations couldn’t be much higher in Chicago right now.
The point spread for this one comes in with the Chicago Bears being three-point favorites playing at home. The over/under on total points scored is set at 35.5 points.
By The Numbers
Last season, the Chicago Bears held a slight edge in the scoring category as they ranked ninth, averaging 26.3 points per game. For the Panthers, they came in at 14th, averaging 23.5 points per game. In terms of defense, the Bears ranked first in the league in scoring, allowing a measly 17.7 points per game. The Panthers came in 19th, allowing 23.9 points. Again, while these give some indication of the team’s overall success from last year, it is worth noting that not only has there been turnover on these teams, but many of their stars will be very limited in week one of the preseason.
Looking For More Consistency
Finishing the season 7-9 left a bitter taste in Panthers’ fans mouths, and if the team doesn’t turn around their season this year, there may be a lot of public pressure for change. Trying to lead the way for Carolina this season will once again be quarterback Cam Newton. Last season, Newton went 320 for 471 yards for 3,395 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. He also rushed 101 times for 488 yards and four touchdowns.
Still, Newton was hampered by an injured shoulder last season, an injury that saw him sit the final couple games and it is an injury that will keep him out of Thursday’s game as well as coaches try to ease him back in. Expect a large dose of Kyle Allen and third-round pick Will Grier as they compete for the backup spot. Last season, Allen went 20 for 31 for 266 yards and two touchdowns in limited action.
On the defensive side, their biggest name will also sit out, as Luke Kuechly will not suit up for this one. Last season Kuechly had 130 total tackles and two sacks. While Kuechly will still be the centerpiece of the defense, the Panthers are excited to see what they can get out of defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Brian Burns this year. They signed Irvin as a free agent and Burns was their first-round pick out of Florida State this year.
Bears Have Big Expectations This Season
An unfortunate miss by kicker Cody Parkey in the playoffs last season spoiled what was an otherwise stellar season for the Bears. The biggest reason for their success was a dominant defense. While Khalil Mack got a lot of the praise, and rightfully so, this defense is loaded with talent. Players like Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, and Kyle Fuller were stellar alongside Mack. Still, what Mack did after joining the team late was special, as he finished the year with 47 tackles and a team-leading 12.5 sacks.
On the offensive side, all eyes this season will be on quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Last season, he was 289 for 434 yards for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He also had 68 rushes for 421 yards and an additional three touchdowns. His progression this season will be the key to the offense trying to take a step forward.
Another interesting position to watch this preseason is the running back spot. With Jordan Howard gone, Matt Nagy will need to figure out the best ways to maximize their running-back platoon with Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, and third-round pick David Montgomery.
Bears Win And Cover
When looking at preseason games, it is really tough to make predictions with the uncertainties of how long starters will play for and what backups will see the bulk of the time. For me, this is where the depth of the Bears comes into play, particularly on the defensive side. Throw on top of that the fact that the Bears have the more seasoned backup in Chase Daniels, who will likely see the bulk of the snaps, and I trust his ability to perform in the preseason opener a little better than that of the Panthers’ quarterbacks. Again, as only a 3-point spread, I wouldn’t blame you if you went either direction on this, but for my money, I am taking the Bears to win and to cover the three-point spread.