Predicting the story lines throughout the Bears’ 2014 schedule

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Every year the NFL schedule is released with much fanfare, and within 24 hours, every NFL analyst in the country will give his or her opinions, analysis, and even predictions on how the season will pan out.

We know, of course, that predictions in April are futile. And I scoff when I read comments about “strength of schedule” and which teams have the easiest schedules and which ones have the toughest. After all, there is so much parity in the NFL that the standings are turned upside down from year to year, and what might have been a weak schedule can be a tough one, or vice versa.

That won’t stop people from making their predictions because it’s fun to talk about and we all need a little extra football talk in our lives.

With that said, I’m offering a different kind of prediction, just to change things up a bit. It seems that in regards to the National Football League — and in Chicago, particularly — everything is life and death. Every little detail that unfolds throughout the football season is treated as momentous and is blown up bigger than it should be. Thus, my predictions will be based on what I feel the Windy City will be discussing at that particular moment.

I’ll be wrong, of course, because predictions are futile. But it’s all in good fun.

Sunday, Sept. 7 – Noon – vs. Buffalo Bills
There will be much hype as the Bears enter the first week of the season. It’s a home game against a perennially bad Bills team. The new faces on the Bears roster will have excited the fans, while the local media will rip guys like Shea McClellin and whomever lines up at safety. The fans will be dreaming Super Bowl — or, at least, a deep playoff run — while the Chicago media will try to temper enthusiasm.
Bears record after one game: 1-0

Sunday, Sept. 14 – 7:30 pm – at San Francisco 49ers
After a convincing Week 1 victory over the lowly Bills, the Bears will be eyeing a huge early-season matchup against a top conference foe. This marks the first of the “doomsday prophesying” as both fans and the media will be skeptical about the Bears being able to beat a tough 49ers team on the road, where the Bears have had trouble playing for quite some time. That fear will be justified as the 49ers defense swarms and stifles the Bears’ high-powered offense in a low-scoring game. A Bears defense still trying to figure things out will eventually slip up in the fourth quarter as the Niners pull away and win in their first game in their new stadium.
Bears record after two games: 1-1

Monday, Sept. 22 – 7:30 pm – at New York Jets
After a bad Cutler game against the 49ers, the Chicago media will be all over him. They’ll criticize Cutler’s decision-making, charge him with zeroing in on Brandon Marshall too much, and lament his multiple interceptions. Both the fans and the media will both blame head coach Marc Trestman for abandoning the run too soon and passing too often. As a result of this criticism and the bad taste of losing still in their mouths, the majority of the media will pick a Bears loss on the road to the Jets whereby the fan base will be split on this game. But the Bears eke out a close one against a shady Jets team.
Bears record after three games: 2-1

Sunday, Sept. 28 – Noon – vs. Green Bay Packers
With the Bears and Packers tied atop the division, this will be the first of many important divisional battles this season. Those who tend to blow things out of proportion will claim that “if the Bears miss the postseason, they’ll look back at this game specifically and regret having lost it.” This, of course, being a ridiculous statement given that there still will be 12 games left in the season after this one. The big story, of course, will be Julius Peppers now wearing green and gold and chasing down Cutler. You’ll see the fans and media split on their prediction of this game, mostly out of fear for losing to a division rival. But all that fear will be unfounded as the Bears will control the tempo of this game and their offense will be too much for the Packers defense.
Bears record after four games: 3-1

Sunday, Oct. 5 – Noon – at Carolina Panthers
Knowing the mediocrity of the Carolina Panthers and not buying the hype from last season’s 12-4 record, the Bears will head south to face a shaky, struggling team. In the week leading up to the game, Bears fans will have big expectations, as they should, while the media will try to calm the fans about their 3-1 start. The Panthers defense will be tough and stingy, but their offense will not be able to score enough points to distance themselves in this one. The Bears will make just enough plays to win a close one on the road and expectations for a big season will only grow stronger.
Bears record after five games: 4-1

Sunday, Oct. 12 – Noon – at Atlanta Falcons
The Bears will be riding high and feeling good about themselves at this point in the season heading into Atlanta. Picking them becomes easier and easier at this point as even the media begins to come around. But a tough Falcons team in a noisy dome trips up the Bears and sends them home with a loss.
Bears record after six games: 4-2

Sunday, Oct. 19 – Noon – vs. Miami Dolphins
The media will overreact to the Bears’ loss in Atlanta and they will begin to lament the loss to a conference foe, asking the question whether the Bears truly are what their record says or if they are a product of fortune and good luck. In comes a bad Miami team which will cure what ails them.
Bears record after seven games: 5-2

Sunday, Oct. 26 – Noon – at New England Patriots
The topic of this week’s game will, of course, be that this is a litmus test for the Bears’ improved defense. Are the Bear really an improved team? Is their defense really that of a 5-2 club at this point? The real test is against a great quarterback like Tom Brady and on the road in a tough place to play. I think the offense will do fine in this game and keep the Bears in it, but the defense will struggle to stop a prolific QB.
Bears record after eight games: 5-3

Sunday, Nov. 2 – Bye Week
As the Bears head into the bye week, the media begins to caution fans that this little stretch could be life or death for the team. They just lost to the Patriots and are 1-2 in the last three weeks. To make matters worse, they are facing the first place Packers next week. This could determine the NFC North division … even though there will be seven more games after this one.

Sunday, Nov. 9 – 7:30 pm – at Green Bay Packers
The Bears head up to Lambeau Field for prime time, where they haven’t exactly had much success (minus the victory over the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers last year). Continuing from the bye week, the media spells doom for the Bears. The Bears, knowing the importance of this game, come out crisp and with intensity. Against all odds, they steal one away from the Packers. That’s right … they sweep the Packers and take sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
Bears record after nine games: 6-3

Sunday, Nov. 16 – Noon – vs. Minnesota Vikings
Soaring high after a huge victory over the rival Packers, the talk of the week is how the Bears legitimately could go on a big win streak here with very winnable games in the next four weeks before facing the Saints in mid-December. Everyone seems to overlook the lowly Vikings at this point, and the Vikings go on to give the Bears a closer game than they were expecting. The Bears manage to hang on in this one. Jared Allen facing his former team, of course, will be a big story.
Bears record after ten games: 7-3

Sunday, Nov. 23 – Noon – vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith strolls into town with an improved Buccaneers team. That, of course, is the story line all week. The media will snicker about Lovie’s old demeanor toward them and the Chicago media will lick its chops at the ability to fire off tough questions on the weekly conference call with the opposing coach. Normally, a coach knows how to take down his former team, but this is a team for which Lovie no longer has connections. I expect a tight game, but the Bears at home will be too much for the Bucs.
Bears record after eleven games: 8-3

Thursday, Nov. 27 – 11:30 am – at Detroit Lions
The Bears are back on Thanksgiving Day and will rekindle their rivalry with the Lions. The Lions have been an undisciplined bunch under former coach Jim Schwartz, but new coach Jim Caldwell will have his team focused and prepared for this one. Riding a three-game win streak, the Bears will fall to the Lions on the road, making for some sour stomachs in the homes of Bears fans that not even a turkey dinner can remedy.
Bears record after twelve games: 8-4

Thursday, Dec. 4 – 7:25 pm – vs. Dallas Cowboys
There appears to always be some kind of mystique over the Dallas Cowboys, an overrated bunch that lacks what it takes to beat some of the best teams in the league. The Cowboys will remember what happened last year, a 45-23 drubbing by the Josh McCown-led Bears in prime time in front of a national audience. But the Bears will be prepared to avoid any kind of revenge motivation by their opponent. While I don’t expect a huge margin of victory like last year, the Bears will sneak away with another important conference victory.
Bears record after thirteen games: 9-4

Monday, Dec. 15 – 7:30 pm – vs. New Orleans Saints
It’s a Monday night showdown with Drew Brees and the Saints. This obviously means that the question so often asked will be asked once more: Are the Bears for real? And this will be another litmus test for them. You’ll be looking at a matchup between two of the most explosive offenses in the league. While I expect the Bears to be crisp in this one, I think the Saints — even in the cold weather — will outlast the Bears on the scoreboard.
Bears record after fourteen games: 9-5

Sunday, Dec. 21 – Noon – vs. Detroit Lions
After losing a close one to the Saints and remembering what the Lions did to them on Thanksgiving, the Bears will enter this one with a renewed sense of focus. The Packers will have climbed back into either a tie or the lead in the NFC North and the talk of this week will be the importance of winning this game or else possibly slipping out of the playoffs. The Lions will give the Bears a good game — they’ll remain disciplined as they have all season — but the Bears will have just a bit too much riding on this one and will pull away with the win.
Bears record after fifteen games: 10-5

Sunday, Dec. 28 – Noon – at Minnesota Vikings
There will be three central story lines as the Bears enter the last week of the regular season. Number one will be the need to win this game to make it to the playoffs. If they lose, they might lose the division lead to the Packers, and might be on the outside looking in, even with a 10-6 record. The second story line will be the Allen vs. former team angle, even for a second time this year. And the third story line, however minor, will be that the Bears are returning to the stadium where they ended Brett Favre’s career — University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. The player who ended Favre’s career with a sack? That’d be former Bears defensive end Corey Wootton, who will be on the opposite side of the field, playing for the Vikings. Bears go on to win the game and secure the division.
Bears record after sixteen games: 11-5

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