The anticipation is killing Bears fans to see their new-look squad take the field for the first time. Who will the road to Super Bowl XLVIII go through? The NFL schedule is due to be out as early as tomorrow but likely some time before the NFL Draft next weekend.
The preseason schedule was released a couple of weeks ago but as that will only give fans a limited look at the team's new coaches and systems. Teams typically play very vanilla schemes in the preseason and it's likely there won't be too much excitement. We'll all have our calendars circled for Sept. 8 (or 9) when the Bears will open for real.
Although there is a lot of unknown about the schedule, there is one thing that is likely; the Bears should get a decent amount of prime time nationally televised games.
Even when the team is below average, they usually still show up on the prime time slate. Part of that is due to Chicago being the NFL's second largest market. Part of it is the storied history of the club. And part of it is due to the large number of Bears fans all over the country.
The Bears finished last season at 10-6, which most years is good enough for a playoff spot, but they finished third behind the Packers and Vikings and one spot out of a Wild Card berth. That fact alone should be enough for the team to get a couple Monday, Sunday or Thursday night games.
I'm going to go through the opponents and then select the three or four I believe would be most likely to matched up against Chicago in a prime time contest. I'm also going to take a stab at whether the Bears will open at home or on the road.
The Bears opponents were determined by the usual formula: Divisional opponents are played both home away, play one each of an NFC and AFC division and then play two other NFC foes who finished the same position in their division the year before. For 2013, the Bears play:
Now, will the Bears open on the road or at home? The last three seasons the Bears have opened at Soldier Field. The last time they opened on the road was in 2009 when they played at Lambeau Field. The four years prior to that, the Bears opened on the road. Most of that is likely coincidence, but I think the Bears could start this year on the road.
As for which games are most likely to be played in prime time, here are my five most likely candidates:
Green Bay Packers - This is a no-brainer . The oldest, most storied rivalry in the NFL is always a candidate for a national TV showdown. Last season it was a week two Thursday night match up. In fact, one has to go all the way back to 2005 to find a season when the two did not meet in a prime time slot.
Minnesota Vikings - This is the second-closest to a no-brainer. The two teams were in the hunt for the last playoff spot right into week 17 last season. The two teams usually play each other relatively close and being division rivals makes for good football. The last two prime time meetings featured beatdowns for the Vikings, including Brett Favre's last game.
Dallas Cowboys - Two storied franchises with fan bases that generally do not like one another. These are also two teams with a strong core of fans in every corner of the country. The teams faced off just last season in a week four Monday night contest which turned into a beatdown by the beloved. I'm sure the Cowboys would want a chance for vengeance.
New York Giants - Like the Bears-Packers rivalry, these two teams share a long and storied past. They have met for many pre-Super Bowl championships, as well as for many Super Bowl-era playoff games. The two teams haven't met since the 2010 debacle on Sunday Night Football, when Jay Cutler was sacked eight times in the first half.
Washington Redskins - NFC East teams are always a favorite of the prime time scheduling gods, for better or worse. The Redskins and Bears have a history just as long as many of the other teams listed. A sophomore RGIII against the Bears D and a new-look Bears offense could be great for the scheduling networks to get in prime time.
Those are my top five guesses for prime time match ups. I realize they are all NFC foes and looking at other possibilities I could see the Ravens game or the Steelers game getting a prime time nod as well.
Which games do you want to see played under the lights?