(Photo via NFL.Com)
Above is a graphic of the Chicago Bears' 2014 schedule, which was released on Wednesday night along with the complete NFL schedule for 2014.
It's April, and many things about the way the schedule looks right now will feel much different when the season actually come along.
Some teams will be better than they are perceived now and some teams will be worse.
Injuries, coaching changes, rookie impact, player progression (especially from young players, like quarterbacks in their second or third years)... every year we see these things impact teams for the better or worse.
Every year we see a team greatly surprise and teams greatly disappoint. Last season, the Atlanta Falcons went 4-12 after going 13-3 in 2012, and the Kansas City Chiefs went 11-5 after going 2-14 in 2012.
So, make sure to keep that in mind, but here's some immediate takeaways we have from the schedule.
Five primetime games and a Thanksgiving game
For the first time since 2004, the Bears will have a Thanksgiving game, as they play the Lions in Detroit for the NFL's first game of the holiday in week 13. What's especially unique about this game is that it will be shown on CBS, which is typically the "AFC" network, as Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing points out:
Bears-Lions on Thanksgiving Day on CBS? Was the NFL that discouraged with the Bills or Dolphins playing in Detroit on a national holiday? Apparently so.
Obviously Bears-Lions would beat the other suggested options in a ratings/intrigue battle, but it's still a bit of an eye-opener as CBS and Fox usually stick to their AFC/NFC guns.
The Bears also get five primetime games:
Week 2 at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday Night Football; NBC)
Week 3 at New York Jets (Monday Night Football; ESPN)
Week 10 at Green Bay Packers (Sunday Night Football; NBC)
Week 14 vs Dallas Cowboys (Thursday Night Football; CBS & NFL Network)
Week 15 vs New Orleans Saints (Monday Night Football; ESPN)
Additionally --at the moment-- you'd have to think the Bears get at least a few other Sunday noon CT games that are shown in much of the country on CBS or Fox (Bears/Packers, Bears/Panthers, Bears/Patriots, Bears/Buccaneers are examples of such games that may interest those networks). So, America is going to get to see a lot of the Bears this year, and it's especially good news for those of you that can't/won't get NFL Sunday Ticket or don't want to go to your nearest bar to watch the games.
In weeks 13-to-15, the Bears will have a very weird Thursday (Lions on Thanksgiving), Thursday (Cowboys on Thursday night football), Monday (Saints on Monday night football) arrangement for their games. The good news is they will get a few extra days of rest between those Cowboys and Saints games.
Three Games That We (Pretty Much) Already Know Will Be Extremely Tough
1. Week 2 at San Francisco 49ers.
It's hard to imagine having a tougher game on paper at the moment than going in to San Francisco to play the 49ers in primetime, for their first game in the brand-new Levi's Stadium.
And with it being in only week two, the 49ers are likely to have (at least near) their full roster, which is an absolutely loaded one. Remember that this is a 49ers team that was driving for the chance to beat the Seahawks in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game in January. The Seahawks then went on to beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 on a neutral field in the Super Bowl.
One might say, "Well at least the Bears don't have to play the 49ers at Candlestick Park after getting embarrassed there so many times over the years", but I'm not sure opening up the 49ers' brand-new stadium in primetime is a more desirable option.
2. Week 8 at New England Patriots
Looking at the schedule right now, if you told me the Bears would get slaughtered in the 49ers game, I could live with that. I wouldn't pick any team to beat the 49ers in that one.
But the one road game I view as a really good measuring stick for the Bears is the game in New England. It's not one you would expect them to win right now, but one that you'd at least expect them to be competitive in if the offense is to take a jump into that elite category in the second year under Marc Trestman.
This game figures to be a great opportunity for the Bears to make a statement.
3. Week 10 at Green Bay Packers.
Shouldn't even have to explain this one. Yes, the Bears won at Lambeau Field last season, but against Seneca Wallace. Yes, the Bears started their backup quarterback (at the time) in Josh McCown, but he played tremendously.
The Bears having their Bye week before this game certainly helps things on the health front... but until the Jay Cutler-led Bears go into Lambeau and beat an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team, you're always going to feel bad about this game going into it.
The Final Seven Games Appear Pretty Favorable
There's a good chance the Bears will have a better roster than all of the teams they play in the final seven games, and five of those games are at home.
Again, some teams will be better than we currently think, but it's a pretty safe bet that the Bears will be better than a Vikings team still trying to find a legitimate quarterback. The Bears play them twice, beginning at the beginning in week 11 at Soldier Field, and to end the regular season in week 17 in Minnesota... but that game will be outdoors at the University of Minnesota instead of the Metrodome, while the Vikings build their new stadium.
Then there is the Buccaneers game (which we will get more into later), against Lovie Smith and Josh McCown. This team is a solid surprise candidate, but it's a team the Bears should probably be beating at home regardless.
The Bears follow their game vs the Bucs with the Thanksgiving game against the Lions in Detroit. Today, the Lions would probably be 3-point favorites or so in that one given it would be at their place and on their annual special game, but it should still be a winnable game for the Bears. The two teams meet again in week 16 at Soldier Field for what could have NFC North or NFC Wild Card implications.
The Thanksgiving game is followed by another Thursday nighter, this time against the Cowboys at Soldier Field, just 360 days after the Bears crushed the Cowboys 45-28 there on a Monday night game. After seeing that game (in which the Bears never punted), and given the Cowboys' history of December struggles, you have to feel pretty good about this one on the surface for the Bears.
Another primetime game follows with the Saints coming to Soldier Field for Monday Night Football on December 15th. We saw the Saints come into Soldier Field and win in 2013, and their juggernaut offense is always extremely difficult to stop. But, if you're going to play the Saints, a mid-December night game at Soldier Field would be your preferred situation.
So, if the Bears can get out of the week 10 game vs the Packers hanging in the thick of the playoff race, they'd have to feel pretty good about their situation with (what should be) a favorable schedule down the stretch.
The Return of Lovie Smith and Josh McCown
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Soldier Field in week 12 in Lovie Smith's first year as head coach. And with Josh McCown possibly as the starting quarterback.
I wondered if it would get primetime consideration (maybe it did), and if each team is competitive, it will be interesting to see if Fox makes this their 'A' game on that Sunday. Even if this game doesn't get much attention on the national scene, there will certainly be a ton of talk leading up to it in Chicago at least, and you know Lovie has an extra-large circle on the calendar for the game.
Super Early Record Prediction