Lets see who has the advantage:
In his first season as a starter, Aaron Rodgers made Packer fans completely forget about Brett Favre with a pretty impressive display. He completed over 63% of his passes last season for 4,038 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
(It actually angers me as a Bears fan that the Packers front office has seemingly hit back-to-back home runs with Brett Favre and now Aaron Rodgers... while the Bears have been masters of mediocrity at that position since before I was born.)
At least until now... Jay Cutler has been dubbed the "savior" by some in Chicago. The combination of his rocket arm and moxy has many comparing HIM to Favre and has given the Bears a legitimate threat under center.
While Cutler threw for over 4500 yards last season, he also threw three less touchdowns while tossing five more interceptions that Rodgers.
Verdict: While Cutler coming to Chicago feels like upgrading from a Volvo to a Ferrari, Rodger's receivers are very, very good.
Matt Forte vs. Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant started slow last season, but really had turned on another gear by midseason and finished with over 1200 yards, including a season high 145 yards versus the Bears in week 11. Grant averaged 3.9 yards per carry and scored five times (four on the ground and one receiving).
Matt Forte won the starters role in training camp last season and hasn't looked back since. He also accumulated over 1200 yards and eight rushing scores plus an identical 3.9 ypc. Forte also was the Bears leading receiver, snagging 63 passes for 477 yards and four touchdowns.
Verdict: While their rushing numbers are similar, Forte's ability to catch passes out of the backfield (and with a inferior quarterback last season) puts him over the top.
Devin Hester and Earl Bennett vs. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver
... Ok, this comparison is being made just to stay consistent:
Jennings and Driver combined for 2304 yards and 14 touchdowns. Jennings was the go to guy while Driver has the experience and is a pretty good blocker on running plays.
Hester and Bennett combined for 665 yards and three touchdowns. And by combined, I mean that Hester had 665 yards and three touchdowns and Bennett didn't see the field much while he was learning the system.
Verdict: Seriously, this is not even close.
Greg Olsen vs. Donald Lee
Donald Lee put together another solid season in Green Bay. Lee was the third leading receiver on the Packers with 39 receptions for over 300 yards and five touchdowns. It was a slight drop from the season before, but with another full training camp under their belt, expect Rodgers to look Lee's way more often, especially once they get in the red zone.
Greg Olsen was the Bears first round pick in 2007 and is entering this season with some very high expectations being put on him. Many of the Chicago media and internet bloggers, myself included, keep talking about Olsen's friendship with Cutler growing and how exciting of a season it is going to be. Olsen finished last season with 54 receptions for 573 yards and five touchdowns.
Verdict: Lee will be good, but Olsen is expected to be coming into his own this season.
Bears starters vs. Packers starters
The Packers offensive line last year was fairly solid. The offense ranked third in points per game and sixth in rush yards per game but did give up 34 sacks.
The left side of the Packers offensive line still looks pretty strong with ten year veteran OT Chad Clifton and three year starter Daryn Colledge.
Jason Spitz moves over from right guard to take the spot of Scott Wells at Center, which allows second year player Josh Sitton to slide into the starters role. He will be next to Allen Barbre, who had not started a game in his two years as a pro.
The Bears are in a similar situation. After ranking seventh in points scored and giving up 29 sacks, both of the Bears tackles left.
The only returning starters are center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza. They added veteran and former pro bowler Orlando Pace to solidify the left tackle position and snagged left guard Frank Omiyale through free agency. To fill the right tackle slot, they elevated Chris Williams, a rookie last season, to the spot after the departure of John St Clair.
Verdict: Both have new starters... both have staples on the line (Kreutz and Clifton) both offenses should be solid.
Atari Bigby and Nick Collins vs Kevin Payne and Danieal Manning
Strong safety Kevin Payne has shown the ability to be a big hitter and his instincts are improving each season. He just has to improve on wrapping up when making tackles.
Danieal Manning's athleticism is incredible and is just as fast, if not faster than Devin Hester. That said, his skills are more likely suited for nickel corner than starting free safety.
Atari Bigby's trek to the NFL is a good story. He went undrafted in 2005, and after bouncing around, finally caught on in Green Bay where he fought for a spot on the team, fought for playing time and eventually won the starters role in 2007.
He had a good year in 07, starting all 16 games. Injuries held him back last season but his athletic ability rivals Manning, as Bigby was a track star in high school also.
Nick Collins has put together a solid career. Since joining the league in 2005, he has started in 61 of 64 possible regular season games and last season was a game changer. Collins had seven interceptions last season and returned three, count them THREE, of those for scores.
Verdict: The Bears defensive backfield as a whole makes people nervous. Check that, the Bears defensive backfield as a whole make BEAR fans nervous.
Charles Woodson and Al Harris vs Charles Tillman and Zachary Bowman
When Peanut Tillman is healthy, he is one of the better corners in the league. His combination of size and ball skills make him very tough to pass against and once a receiver makes the catch, he has a knack for stripping the ball. Only problem is that he has injury issues, again. Don't count on him starting Week 1.
Zachary Bowman was a fifth round pick by the Bears last season. He was signed to the practice squad, was called up to play in week four against the Vikings, scored a touchdown off a blocked punt and had the game sealing interception but also tore his bicep and missed the rest of the season.
He came into training camp looking sharp and won the starting role from incumbent Nathan Vasher, and then promptly pulled a hamstring and has missed most of the preseason.
Charles Woodson and Al Harris are the best corner duo in the NFC North and arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL.
Verdict: No point in even throwing stats out there, this one is a landslide.
Aaron Kampman, A.J. Hawk, Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga vs. Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Pisa Tinoisamoa
While the Packers have the best cornerback duo in the league, the Bears have one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL. Briggs and Urlacher are both Pro Bowlers and Pisa is a great tackler and can keep up with most tight ends in the league.
The Packers are now in the 3-4 defense and this group does look pretty imposing, but I think that they will still be trying to get used to the system. In another year or two (especially with Clay Matthews working his way in) these guys will be VERY good.
Verdict: Bears now, Packers later
Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins vs. Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris, Anthony Adams and Alex Brown.
With the exception of Alex Brown, the Bears line under performed last season when rushing the passer. They could not generate consistent pass rush and had several games where the QB wasn't even touched (such as the Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the first game against the Packers).
Their run defense was stout, but without pressure the defensive backfield was picked apart. The Bears did add defensive line guru Rod Marinelli, who seemed to be improving the line play during the preseason... but as we all know, preseason doesn't count for much.
So this will be a big test for them. The depth behind them however, is solid and experienced.
The Packers three down lineman are all BIG men. Their combined weight is in the nature of 970 lbs. Their main purpose in the 3-4 defense is not so much to apply constant pressure, but more to command two blockers, thus freeing up the linebackers.
Also don't be surprised to see Kampman coming off the edge a lot. If he can make the transition to OLB, then he could be a scary player to have to block, especially with a running start.
The Packers backups have a lot of promise. They have two rookies in B.J. Raji and Jarius Wynn plus veteran DE Mike Montgomery. Raji was a first round pick and looks to be well worth it down the road and Wynn was a great pick up in the fifth round. But both will still need some time to develop.
Verdict: The Packers will be in the first week of their new defensive scheme and the Bears will be trying to improve upon last year...
Brad Maynard vs. Jeremy Kapinos
Kapinos is entering his second year in the league. And while he only had 17 punts last season for an average of just under 40 yards per kick, he did knock seven of those inside the 20 yard line. Not too shabby.
Brad Maynard on the other hand is entering his 13th season as punter. Last year he punted a total of 96 times (god that's a lot) with an average of 41.2 with 40 punts downed inside the 20 yard line and only five touchbacks.
Verdict: Both punters are used to kicking in miserable weather (Kapinos played college ball for Penn St.) so there is no advantage there. So then you have to look at experience...
Mason Crosby vs. Robbie Gould
Robbie Gould is one of the more accurate kickers in the NFL. Last season, he hit 26 out of 29 field goal attempts, with two of the three misses being blocked. That average equals 89.7%, one of the highest in the league. Although Gould's range has been limited. His longest kick last year was from 48 yards.
Mason Crosby hit 27 of 34 field goals last season for an average of 79.4%. His longest field goal though was from 53 yards, so give the range to him.
Both kickers are average when it comes to kickoffs with roughly the same average distance, although Crosby had more touchbacks.
Verdict: Gould is more accurate but Crosby has longer range.
Devin Hester/Danieal Manning vs. Will Blackmon
For Bear fans, this is not a landslide victory. Will Blackmon had a very good season last year as both the punt and kick returner.
For punts, Blackmon had an 11.1 average with a long of 76 (which he actually did twice) and two touchdowns.
For kick returns, he averaged 21.9 yards per return with a long of 45 yards.
The Bears used the duo of Devin Hester and Danieal Manning.
Hester had 31 kick returns and 32 punt returns last season. For kick returns he averaged 21.9 yards with a long of 51. For punt returns he averaged only a mere 6.2 yards with a long of 25. He did not return any for touchdowns.
Manning took over the kick returns midway through the season and excelled though. With 36 kick returns, he average 29.7 yards and had a long of 83 (which he also did twice) and taking one back to the house. What is even more staggering is that he had nine returns of OVER 40 yards. Talk about good field position.
Verdict: Blackmon can succeed in both areas and Hester showed a flash of his former self in the preseason. Pretty close, but Blackmon is currently fighting a quadricep injury which has held him out of practice the past few days.
I gave the Bears the advantage in five categories and the Packers the advantage in four with three pushes. In fairness though, it would be five to five if I had included coaching in there.
Now, just because I rated the Bears 5-4, I am not saying they will win. I think the combination of Rodgers and his receivers against the Bears DBs is one of the more lopsided match ups.
The Bears need to control the clock and put together some long drives to just keep their defense rested and not let the Packers offense get into any sort of rhythm.
In the end, I will say the Bears win: 34-31. Not exactly your fathers NFC Central battle.