My immediate reaction after the NFL released the Bears 2017 regular season schedule was, 'wow, what exactly did they do to deserve this?'
First, my annual reminder that calculating the difficulty of any schedule in April is mere folly with the knowledge that in the NFL teams go from worst to first and vice versa as often as some folks change their underwear.
But that said, the murder’s row the schedule-makers have gifted the Bears with this September will tell us very quickly exactly what the likelihood is the Bears can be significantly improved this season.
Opening at home against the Falcons, traveling to Tampa Bay and then coming back home to face the Steelers, all at noon on Sunday, and then going to Green Bay on Thursday night, the Bears will almost certainly be a touchdown or more underdog in each of their first four games.
The Bears could be much improved and still go 0-4, effectively ending their season before it really gets going.
The good news is, the only 2016 playoff teams the Bears will see the rest of the way will be a rematch with the Pack at home November 12, and their two games against Detroit, and there is no week a team would rather have its bye than Week Nine — right smack dab in the middle of the season — and the Bears have drawn that straw this year.
The second quarter of the season is no walk in the park but does offer a lot more hope, with Week Five and Week Seven home games against Minnesota and Carolina, and Week Six and Week Eight trips to Baltimore and New Orleans.
A 4-4 start is not out of the realm of possibilities, but 1-7 or 2-6 may seem more likely.
The Bears are set up for a strong second half facing clubs with a combined 52-75-1 record last year, and their rematch with the Packers and two meetings with the Lions will offer the only ’16 opponents with winning records.
They also get a break not traveling after their 10/29 game in New Orleans for almost a month, with the home rematch with Green Bay and the first Lions game at home before they go to Philadelphia on November 26.
The following Sunday, the Bears will get a visit from the 49ers exactly 364 days after the last time they came to town, when the Bears played their best game of 2016, a 26-6 win.
The last quarter of the season will send the Bears back on the road quite a bit, as they travel to Cincinnati and Detroit, host the Browns on Christmas Eve and then finish in Minnesota for the second season in a row.
It should surprise no one after a 3-13 campaign that the Bears will work in prime time just three times – the Thursday night in Green Bay, at home on Monday night vs. the Vikings and a 3:30 Saturday start in that second Lions game.
With all that as the particulars, we can offer a best guess as to what it all means.
The only teams on the schedule worse than the Bears last year were Cleveland and San Francisco, and both appear unlikely to leapfrog the Bears this year.
I actually expect the Bears to be much improved in 2017, but with the Draft still a week off you’re going to have to give me a few months to build my defense of that claim.
Beyond that, it’s reasonable to assume the Falcons, Steelers and Packers are playoff teams again, and the Bucs and Ravens look ready to make another run.
The Panthers and Eagles look likely to be improved, while the Vikings, Saints, Lions and Bengals don’t feel all that scary.
This will change a number of times over the next four months as the Bears 13 opponents evolve along with them, but for now 7-9 seems possible.
Can you find the seven wins, or am I just swimming in Kool-Aid?