If we’ve learned anything about the NFL over the past two decades or so with clubs racing from worst to first over single seasons and from first to worst at the same dizzying pace, analyzing a club’s schedule before Week 8, 9 or 10 of the season is a waste of time.
But a quick study of the Bears’ 2019 slate, released Wednesday night, appears to almost guarantee the team’s 2019 season will not be the same stroll through a majority of the league’s cupcakes that it was in 2018, when the Bears officially played the NFL’s easiest schedule.
Don’t get me wrong, in spite of the schedule, the 2018 Bears were a very good team, but they never were challenged like this.
Opening Thursday night at home against the Packers, then traveling to Denver and Washington, returning home to play the Vikings and then going across the pond to take on the Raiders before a Week 6 bye, the Bears have a chance to start strong.
They had better, and they may need to win at least four of those first five to have any chance to match last year’s regular-season win total of 12.
Because coming out of the bye, they face a five-week gauntlet with visits from the Saints and Chargers, a trip to Philadelphia, a visit from the Lions and then a long ride to L.A. to face the Rams that could make them a Super Bowl favorite or cost them a playoff spot.
The rest of the way, things get slightly easier as they host the Giants, play at Detroit four days later on Thanksgiving Day, play the following Thursday night at home against the Cowboys and, after the “minibye,” close with Sunday battles at Green Bay, at home against the Chiefs and at Minnesota.
Clearly, the NFL powers that be expect great things from the Bears. In addition to being featured Thanksgiving Day and playing the opener against the Packers and the Cowboys game in Thursday prime-time affairs, the trip to D.C. is a Monday night special, and the Rams and Chiefs games are slotted as Sunday night prime timers – six starring roles in all.
It would take a tidal wave of change throughout the NFL to keep this from being one of the league’s toughest slates this year.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.