The Chicago Bears’ 2016 regular season schedule was released Thursday night and the Monsters of the Midway will be showcased in four prime-time games, interestingly all before their Week 9 bye.
It’s also interesting to note that during the Bears’ first eight games of the 2016 schedule, they alternate road games and home games every single week.
The Bears will open the 2016 regular season schedule on the road against the Houston Texans and will finish the season with four of six games at the friendly confines of Soldier Field.
If you’re feeling a need for a holiday treat, the Bears will spook you on Halloween night, when they play the rival Minnesota Vikings at home. On Christmas Eve, the Washington Redskins will make a visit to Soldier Field for the Bears’ last home game of the regular season schedule. Then the Bears will ring in the new year with a New Year’s Day road game in Minnesota.
The Bears have just six games against playoff teams from a year ago. And perhaps the most encouraging note of all, the Bears will face six of the nine-worst teams — according to record — from a year ago: the Titans (3-13), Cowboys (4-12), Jaguars (5-11), 49ers (5-11), Buccaneers (6-10), and Giants (6-10). Given the disparity from year to year, there’s no guarantee some of those teams don’t make big jumps in 2016, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.
Here’s a look at the full 2016 Chicago Bears schedule along with brief previews on each opponent and potential story lines.
Week 1: Sep 11, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Houston Texans
The Bears have the opportunity to make a statement in the first game of the season, on the road against one of the six 2015 playoff teams on their schedule. Bears head coach John Fox is familiar with new Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler, who spent time with him in Denver. The Bears better have their new-look offense — led by coordinator Dowell Loggains and without long-time running back Matt Forte — clicking on as many cylinders as possible against a stingy Texans defense.
Week 2: Sep 19, 07:30PM (ESPN) — vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Bears have an opponent who is ripe for the picking for their first home game of the season. The Eagles are under new leadership after Chip Kelly was exiled in the offseason, and the team likely won’t be on the same page by Week 2. The Eagles defense was third-worst in the NFL in yards per game last year, and gave up the fifth-most amount of points.
Week 3: Sep 25, 07:30PM (NBC) — @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys admittedly had a down year in 2015 because they played a large chunk of it without star receiver Dez Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo. But the team has never been an elite one in my eyes and this is a very winnable game. The Bears secondary will be tested in this game and it’ll be interesting to see if they have any new young players in the defensive backfield trying to defend some of the Cowboys’ receivers.
Week 4: Oct 02, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions will come to town in Week 4 without one of their familiar faces. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson unexpectedly retired this offseason and left the Lions scrambling to find a replacement. They signed former Bengals receiver Marvin Jones to pair with Golden Tate, giving them two No. 2 receivers at best, but likely both No. 3’s on playoff teams.
Week 5: Oct 09, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Indianapolis Colts
A Week 5 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts on the road could be the Bears’ toughest opponent to date. Last season was a down year for the Colts, who had to battle without quarterback Andrew Luck for more than half the season. The defense also took a major step back from the 2014 season. If the Bears are to pull off a victory in this one, they have to exploit the Colts’ defense, keep Luck on the sideline, and keep the pass rush off Jay Cutler.
Week 6: Oct 16, 12:00PM (CBS) — vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Is it bad and/or premature to see the Jaguars on the schedule and immediately pencil in a win? In all seriousness, the Jaguars might be one of the worst franchises in the NFL, but they did manage to beat five unsuspecting opponents last year and actually do have some good young talent on offense in quarterback Blake Bortles, receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, who just signed with the team in the offseason. The Bears can’t fall into a trap game, looking ahead to next week’s matchup against the Packers.
Week 7: Oct 20, 07:25 (CBS, NFLN) — @ Green Bay Packers
In their first matchup with their chief rivals, the Bears will take on the Packers on Thursday Night Football in Week 7. After the Bears upset them last year on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field, you can bet the Packers will be geared up for revenge in this one. Can the Bears make it two years in a row? It’s a difficult thing to comprehend, but I don’t think it’s impossible. The defense played well in that game a year ago and they’ll have even more playmakers this season.
Week 8: Oct 31, 07:30PM (ESPN) — vs. Minnesota Vikings
It’s just a vague prediction at this point, but I think the Vikings will actually regress this season. Not only did they make the playoffs a year ago, but they stole the NFC North championship crown from the Packers. They have a good young defense and the reigning NFL rushing champion in Adrian Peterson. But even though Peterson has looked like he has defied the laws of aging for running backs, he’s 31 years old and that proverbial wall that running backs hit can happen at any time. The Vikings still have Teddy Bridgewater taking snaps, and as long as he’s calling the shots, the Vikings will fail to break through that glass ceiling.
Week 9: BYE WEEK
The Bears got lucky with a bye week that falls exactly midway through the season. If they can finish their first eight games healthy and with a .500 record or better, they’ll be in good shape with a much easier second half of the schedule.
Week 10: Nov 13, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I would have pointed to this game as yet another matchup with former head coach Lovie Smith, but the Bucs lost patience with him and fired him after just two seasons. The Bucs promoted Dirk Koetter to head coach after a successful season as offensive coordinator. The Bucs actually do have a great young offense that finished fifth in yards last year. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston managed to stay out of trouble, running back Doug Martin finished second in rushing yards, and the combination of receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins causes matchup problems. This is not a gimme victory, but is a winnable game.
Week 11: Nov 20, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ New York Giants
The Giants chose to go with continuity when they parted ways with head coach Tom Coughlin and promoted offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, but I’m not so sure that McAdoo is up to the task of resurrecting this team. The Giants are badly in need of a makeover and an infusion of fresh young talent on both sides of the ball. The Bears should win this game and I would consider it a disappointment if they did not.
Week 12: Nov 27, 12:00PM (CBS) — vs. Tennessee Titans
The Bears have much to be thankful for a few days after Thanksgiving when the Titans come into town. Last year’s worst team — according to record — has a lot of holes to fill, something that can’t be done in one offseason. The biggest questions facing the Bears in this one are can they contain quarterback Marcus Mariota, and will new running back acquisition DeMarco Murray resurrect his career after one miserable season under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia?
Week 13: Dec 04, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of Chip Kelly, the new-look 49ers will come to town the first weekend in December and you can bet the farm that the Bears will have this game circled. Last year, the Bears had a chance to make a playoff run after surprisingly beating the Packers on Thanksgiving. The 49ers were in the middle of a horrible season and came limping into Soldier Field 10 days later. Sure-thing victory, right? Wrong. Blaine Gabbert — of all quarterbacks — put a dagger in the Bears’ defense with a 44-yard game-tying touchdown run in regulation and then a 71-yard touchdown pass in overtime for the victory. Oh yeah … and Robbie Gould botched a chip shot field goal for the win in regulation. The Bears are not losing this game. Period.
Week 14: Dec 11, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Detroit Lions
The Bears have lost six straight games to the Lions, if you can believe it. I think that trend ends this season. If the Bears don’t win their first game with the Lions at home in Week 4, they’ll make up for it on the road in this one. But I think given the transition the Lions will be going through without Calvin Johnson, paired with the fact that they’re just not that good, the Bears very likely could sweep the Lions in 2016.
Week 15: Dec 18, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Green Bay Packers
If the Bears are going to make the playoffs in 2016, this will be the start of a critical stretch for them. The final three games are against opponents who made the playoffs last year, starting with the Packers. It’s a benefit to the Bears that they are playing at home in two of these games, but the Packers know no difference. This game could come down to a simple matter of health, with the healthier team gaining the upper hand. I think by this point in the season, the offense should have an identity under Loggains and the new defensive players should have jelled by now.
Week 16: Dec 24, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Washington Redskins
Every year there’s at least one or two teams who have no business being in the postseason. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the Washington Redskins, led by Kirk “You Like That!?” Cousins. The Redskins are a strong, confident team, I’ll give them that. But they don’t exactly have a talent base that makes you cringe. They’re going to run the ball well and play good defense and hope that Cousins makes enough plays to win. This is another game the Bears will have circled on their schedule — if not just because they hope to be a in a playoff chase at this point. The Redskins — like the 49ers — are a team the Bears could have and should have beaten at home last year. The Redskins had not won a road game up to the point they faced the Bears, and the Bears drizzled down their leg, capped off by another late missed field goal by Gould.
Week 17: Jan 01, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Minnesota Vikings
What would it look like to see a Bears-Vikings game on New Year’s Day for a final playoff spot? Kind of like a college bowl game, huh? That could very well be the case this season, although things rarely turn out to be what is expected. The hope for Bears fans at this point is that this game remains relevant. The Bears have not seen the playoffs since the 2010 season and there’s nothing worse than pointless games at the end of the season.