The 2017 NFL schedule was released Thursday night, always an eagerly anticipated, yet anticlimactic date on the football calendar.
The 3-13 Chicago Bears will be featured in just two prime time games, which ironically take place in back-to-back weeks against the Packers and Vikings. Aside from a 3:30 game in December against their other division rival, Detroit, the rest of the Bears’ games will have noon kickoffs.
The Bears kick off their 2017 season with a bang, hosting the defending Super Bowl champion — oops, make that Super Bowl runners-up — Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field. Interestingly, the Bears will alternate home and away games every other week through the first eight games on their schedule.
The Bears will have their bye in Week 9, splitting their season exactly in half, which is the ideal break time during the course of a rigorous, 16-game schedule. The symmetry goes even deeper than that as the Bears have an equal balance of four home games and four road games in both halves of the season.
The Bears have holiday games on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
Only six games will be played against 2016 playoff teams as the Bears square off against the Falcons, Steelers, Packers (twice), and Lions (twice). The Bears also get the pleasure of facing off against fellow cellar dwellers, Cleveland and San Francisco.
Here’s a look at the full 2017 Chicago Bears schedule along with brief previews on each opponent and potential story lines.
Week 1: Sun, Sep 10, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Atlanta Falcons
As I half-scoffed at previously, the Bears will host the Super Bowl runners-up at Soldier Field to kick off the season and this will be the first opportunity that the NFL Universe gets to see if the Falcons have a Super Bowl hangover as so many losers before them have fallen victim to.
Week 2: Sun, Sep 17, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Bears quarterback Mike Glennon will get his first opportunity to make his former team regret letting him go. Whether or not Glennon can do that is another story. The Buccaneers flashed some potential last year and finished in a 9-7 tie with the sixth-seeded Detroit Lions, just missing the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker. This will be a good test for the Bears to see if they can improve from Week 1 to Week 2, which is generally when most young teams make their biggest progression.
Week 3: Sun, Sep 24, 12:00PM (CBS) — vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Always a challenge, the solid Steelers will come to town to give the Bears their third straight difficult test to open the season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger contemplated retirement in the offseason but is committed to giving it another go this season. The Bears signed former Steeler wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the offseason, so it’ll be interesting to see what role he has at this point in the season.
Week 4: Thu, Sep 28, 7:25PM (NFLN) — @ Green Bay Packers
The Bears get the first of their two prime time games at the conclusion of the first quarter as they travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers in Thursday night action. The schedule in the first four games is most certainly not very friendly and could bury the Bears if they don’t steal a pair. Thursday night games are usually low-scoring and produce ugly football, so the Bears could certainly steal one here. Former Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, who signed with the green and gold in the offseason, surely will get a harsh treatment from his former teammates.
Week 5: Mon, Oct 9, 7:30PM (ESPN) — vs. Minnesota Vikings
In back-to-back weeks, the Bears will play their only other prime time game of the season, a Monday night affair against the rival Vikings. With their previous game being a Thursday night, the Bears will have 10 days of rest in between contests. The Vikings are trying to move on from the Adrian Peterson era.
Week 6: Sun, Oct 15, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Baltimore Ravens
Playing in Baltimore is never an easy task and the Bears will face that in Week 6. The Ravens added pieces to their defense and signed the versatile Danny Woodhead to cause problems out of the backfield. Young Kenneth Dixon will be back from his four-game suspension by this point and will make it difficult on the Bears’ run defense.
Week 7: Sun, Oct 22, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Carolina Panthers
In Week 7, the Bears host Cam Newton and Ron Rivera for their last home game before the bye week. This is the week we will determine whether the Panthers’ 2015 season in which they fell to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 was the real deal, or whether it was a fluke and every other season except that one more accurately reflects who they are. I’m tending to believe it was the latter, and fthat you won’t be watching MVP Cam Newton anymore.
Week 8: Sun, Oct 29, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ New Orleans Saints
Bears general manager Ryan Pace returns to the home where it all started for him as the Bears take on the Saints in their final battle before the bye week. The Saints had a down year in 2016 and I’d imagine them to do much better this season as Drew Brees’ time in New Orleans winds down.
Week 9: BYE WEEK
A midseason bye week is exactly what the doctor ordered. The Bears will rest after a very difficult first half of the season, and here’s hoping that there won’t be too many serious injuries that need to be healed.
Week 10: Sun, Nov 12, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Green Bay Packers
The Bears couldn’t have asked for a better time to face the Packers. Coming off their bye week, the Bears will have had two weeks of preparation and rest to face Aaron Rodgers and clan. Meanwhile, the Packers will be coming off a short week after facing the rival Lions in a Monday night matchup. If the Bears can’t win this one, one has to wonder if they ever can.
Week 11: Sun, Nov 19, 12:00PM (FOX) — vs. Detroit Lions
Following a tough NFC North battle against the Packers, the Bears immediately follow up with one against the Lions. Fortunately, this one is at home. I don’t buy into the Lions from a season ago. They backed their way into the playoffs and they just aren’t very good. That’s not to say the Bears are shoe-ins to win this. It’s just to say that they have no reason to be deer in headlights.
Week 12: Sun, Nov 26, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Bears get the opportunity to see former No. 1 wideout Alshon Jeffery in Week 12 — that is, unless he’s out with some soft tissue injury or he’s suspended for PEDs. Either way, the Eagles will pose a challenge in what should be a physical matchup. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz could very well excel in Season 2 of his young NFL career.
Week 13: Sun, Dec 3, 12:00PM (CBS) — vs. San Francisco 49ers
I’d like to say the Bears get a bit of a break in Week 13 against a bad 49ers team, but when you finish 3-13, you don’t get that luxury. New Niners coach Kyle Shanahan should have the offense playing better, even if he doesn’t have the horses to make it work like he did with the Falcons last year. Former Bears quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley both signed with the Niners this offseason, but if either one is starting in this contest, I like the Bears chances.
Week 14: Sun, Dec 10, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Cincinnati Bengals
The Bears travel to Cincinnati in Week 14 for one of those late-season interconference games that might lack any serious meaning short of a hopeful playoff push. The Bengals might be fighting for a playoff spot as well by that point, but other than that, there’s little to get excited about.
Week 15: Sat, Dec 16, 3:30PM (NFLN) — @ Detroit Lions
The Bears have a Saturday matinee against the rival Lions in Week 15. This could either be a compelling matchup for a playoff spot, or a complete dud. I’m hoping for the former, but guessing the latter.
Week 16: Sun, Dec 24, 12:00PM (CBS) — vs. Cleveland Browns
The Bears get a nice present on Christmas Eve when they face the lowly and dysfunctional Browns. Barring complete collapse or a severe rash of injuries, there’s no reason the Bears should lose this game. And that should make for a very merry ho, ho, ho.
Week 17: Sun, Dec 31, 12:00PM (FOX) — @ Minnesota Vikings
I enjoy divisional games during the last week of the season, but even more so if there is meaning behind them. I can’t imagine that both the Bears and Vikings will be in a position of high competition at this point in the season, but one can hope, right? And at the very least, if it turns out to be a disaster, you can hit the bottle hard and ring in the new year after it’s all said and done.