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Column: With the NFL set to unveil the 2024 schedule, a look at how things could play out for the Chicago Bears

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The NFL is expected to pull back the curtain this week on the most anticipated schedule for Chicago Bears fans in five years.

At this time in 2019, the Bears were coming off a 12-4 season — only two teams had a better record — and hope was bubbling over at Halas Hall as the organization prepared for its 100th season with all the accompanying festivities.

The league deviated that year from its normal course of having the defending Super Bowl champion host the Thursday night season opener and pivoted to the Bears against the rival Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field. The 10-3 loss was a jarring thud to begin the season, a harbinger of struggles to come.

Surely the Bears will be much better equipped to start this season with a new offense led by rookie quarterback Caleb Williams and supported by wide receivers DJ Moore, Keenan Allen and rookie Rome Odunze, tight ends Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett, a mix of running backs and an offensive line the team believes will be improved.

Playing in the country’s largest one-team television market, the Bears will be coveted by the league’s network partners for not only prime-time games, but also late afternoon Sunday games. Even when the Bears are mediocre — as they’ve been for most of the last decade-plus — they post good ratings.

So brace yourself for a slate filled with prime-time action.

Here’s what we know about the Bears’ 2024 schedule.

The Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders play Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. The Raiders defeated the Bears, 24-21. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
The Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders play on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

• They will have nine home games and one will be played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, where the Bears lost to the Oakland Raiders in 2019. The home opponents besides the NFC North rivals — the Packers, Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings — are the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars are expected to be the opponent in London.

• The Bears will have eight road games. The opponents will be the divisional foes along with the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Commanders.

• The Bears will have four preseason games, beginning with the Hall of Fame Game against the Texans on Aug. 1 at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Two other preseason games will be on the road and one will be played at Soldier Field.

Five marquee opponents

Chicago Bears defensive end Montez Sweat (98) chases Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field on Dec. 10, 2023, in Chicago. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Bears defensive end Montez Sweat chases Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff at Soldier Field on Dec. 10, 2023. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

1. Packers: Until the Bears can reverse their long-running struggles in this series, they’re going to have a mighty difficult time taking the North. The Packers have won the last 10 meetings and are 15-1 against the Bears since a Thanksgiving night meeting at Lambeau Field in 2015.

2. Lions: The reigning NFC North champions went 12-5 last year and reloaded this offseason. Like the Bears and Packers, the Lions have a young roster with budding stars. The Bears are 8-4 against Detroit the last six seasons, including a 28-13 victory at Soldier Field in December, but the Lions arrived at contender status first, reaching the NFC championship game last season before a disastrous second half at San Francisco cost them a trip to Super Bowl LVIII.

3. 49ers: There’s no better measuring stick for the progress of general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus than a road trip to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The 49ers have reached the Super Bowl twice in the last five seasons and are 25-9 in the regular season over the last two years. The last time the Bears won on the road against a 49ers team that finished with a winning record was 1985.

4. Texans: C.J. Stroud rode to prominence as a rookie last season when he passed for 4,108 yards and 23 touchdowns after Houston drafted him with the No. 2 pick. Stroud was so good that he was able to reverse the fortunes of a struggling franchise from the jump. The Bears passed on the former Ohio State quarterback when they traded out of the No. 1 pick in 2023.

5. Rams: They’re coming off a 10-7 season and an appearance in the wild-card round. Provided veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford remains healthy, they should be formidable in the post-Aaron Donald era. Coach Sean McVay is known for offensive ingenuity, but the Bears scored a total of 35 points in the teams’ last three meetings — all losses and all at Los Angeles.

Airing it out

AFC quarterback C.J. Stroud, of the Houston Texans, throws against the NFC during the flag football event at the NFL Pro Bowl football game, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Orlando. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AFC quarterback C.J. Stroud, of the Houston Texans, throws against the NFC during the flag football event at the NFL Pro Bowl football game, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, in Orlando. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

One measuring stick that can be instructive when evaluating a schedule that’s four months from starting is to judge the expected quarterback matchups, or at least try to evaluate them. The Bears have an unknown quantity in Williams but believe that with offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, they will be able to bring out the best in the No. 1 pick, especially with the strong supporting cast.

The Bears have six games against opponents with a quarterback who finished in the top 11 in passer rating last season: Brock Purdy (49ers, first), Stroud (Texans, sixth), Jared Goff (Lions, ninth) and Jordan Love (Packers, 11th). There are eight games against opponents with QBs who finished in the top 11 in passing yards in 2023: the aforementioned names along with the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence and Stafford.

There will be no shortage of measuring-stick games for Williams against quarterbacks the Bears could have drafted the last two years in Stroud, the Panthers’ Bryce Young, the Colts’ Anthony Richardson, the Commanders’ Jayden Daniels, the Patriots’ Drake Maye and the Vikings’ J.J. McCarthy.

One fact that shouldn’t be discounted when evaluating how Eberflus’ defense played in the second half of last season is that the Bears had games against Young, Josh Dobbs (Vikings), Joe Flacco (Cleveland Browns), Kyler Murray (Cardinals) fresh off a serious knee injury and Taylor Heinicke (Atlanta Falcons). Yes, the game in Cleveland wasn’t a positive reflection of what were generally solid improvements.

Strength of schedule

There are five opponents that reached the playoffs in 2023 (Lions, Packers, 49ers, Rams and Texans) and five last-place teams (Cardinals, Commanders, Panthers, Patriots and Titans). All five finished with a worse record than the Bears (7-10).

Sharp Football Analysis makes the case that the best way to gauge strength of schedule when there’s a full summer ahead before games begin is to analyze the expected win totals for all 32 teams at Las Vegas sportsbooks. It gives a more accurate picture than stacking up teams based on 2023 winning percentages. ESPNBet has the Bears’ over/under at 8½ victories (-150), meaning that total is trending toward nine.

Using that method, the Bears have the third-easiest schedule, according to Warren Sharp, behind only the Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers. Was this formula telling in 2023? Per the website, 10 of the 15 teams with the easiest schedules based on Vegas O/U win totals reached the playoffs and nine went over their total. Only four teams from the 17 most difficult schedules went to the playoffs and only four eclipsed their win total.

Maybe that’s a clue of success to come for the Bears, something that would be largely predicated on how Williams develops. Now we wait for the actual schedule to drop.

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Brad Biggs , 2024-05-06 13:00:49

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