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2016 Bears schedule: A deeper look at opponents

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The schedule was released last night and it's never too early to start speculating.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL schedule release is pretty low on my list of offseason events. When the day finally arrives it's usually pretty exciting but ultimately it is fairly meaningless.

With a week between games, unless a team ends up with three or four road games consecutively, there isn't much that can be gathered from a schedule release.

The best thing about the release is looking ahead to planning trips to games and knowing when your favorite team will be on in primetime.

With that said though, the release of the schedule allows fans to finally start the early process of chalking up Ws and Ls and see if there are enough winnable games to make the postseason.

Despite having the third-easiest schedule on paper, the 2016 schedule has a few tricks up its sleeve that could make it more difficult.

Week 1: at Houston Texans

Breakdown: Sure the Bears are 0-3 all time against the Houston squad but that doesn't mean much since the teams face each other so infrequently. Houston will have a new-to-them QB under center in Brock Osweiler. They also have DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt. This game may be tougher than it appears at first glance.

Week 2: vs. Eagles

Breakdown: The Bears haven't had a home opener on Monday Night Football since they hosted the Packers in 2003 to open the newly renovated Soldier Field. They lost 38-23. This time though the team should be a little better than that Kordell Stewart-led squad. The Eagles are coming off a 7-9 season. They have made some moves this offseason but nothing that jumps out as a huge splash. They are looking to improve but it's still a question of whether Sam Bradford can be the guy.

Week 3: at Cowboys

Breakdown: A second straight primetime game, this time on the road. The Cowboys' 4-12 record from a year ago feeds into the Bears' "easy" schedule but this one is very misleading. The Cowboys were down a great running back as well as missing Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for much of '15. Those two were playing deep in the playoffs two years ago. This game won't be as easy as it appears but the Bears have won three of the last four match ups, including two in Jerry World.

Week 4: vs. Lions

Breakdown: The biggest area of improvement that the Bears need this season is 1) winning at home and 2) winning in the division. Chicago was swept by both the Lions and Vikings last season and they lost by a combined seven points in the two games against Detroit. John Fox is going to want to send a message and get his players up early in the divisional standings and make Soldier Field a difficult place to play once again.

Week 5: at Colts

Breakdown: Andrew Luck is a great quarterback who had a down year. This team has been in the playoffs a ton but the wheels really fell off last year. Their o-line is suspect and their coach is entering the season already on the hot seat after barely surviving a year ago. Add in that, for some reason, the Colts play in London the week before they host the Bears and suddenly this road trip doesn't seem so daunting. But never say never in the NFL.

Week 6: vs. Jaguars

Breakdown: The perennial losers may not be so for long. After years of high draft picks, the Jags have slowly built up a potent offense. Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson were a fairly dangerous trio a year ago and despite the additions the Bears have made thus far, there is no saying that they have improved greatly at defending the pass. Much like the Bears, the Jags are also getting back last year's first round pick from injury in Dante Fowler. Is this finally the year that the Jags show some teeth?

Week 7: at Packers

Breakdown: This Thursday night "color rush" game is going to be a big one. Keeping in mind what I wrote about the Bears and their divisional record earlier and add in that last year this was Fox's Super Bowl. The rivalry is not lost on this regime. That it's on a short week isn't ideal. That it's at Lambeau makes it less so. The Packers should be better than they were last season but so should the Bears. This should be yet another close one after both games were separated by one score last season.

Week 8: vs. Vikings

Breakdown: A full 11 days of rest for the Bears heading into this one. Back-to-back divisional games and hopefully the Bears will be looking to move to 3-0 in the division or at least head into the bye week with a winning record. The Vikings stomped the Bears the last time they met, but again, I have a feeling Fox is really going to harp on defending the home turf.

Week 10: at Buccaneers

Breakdown: The Bucs finished an identical 6-10 to the Bears last year. Chicago's last victory came against the team in Week 16 by just five points. Tampa has a new coaching staff but Jameis Winston should grow in year two. Doug Martin and Mike Evans could also cause problem for the Bears while Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy and new arrivals Brent Grimes and Robert Ayers will try to slow down the offense of the Bears.

Week 11: at Giants

Breakdown: The Giants are a difficult team to read at this point because they have a new coach and have brought in a ton of defenders to help solidify a unit that was awful last season. Olivier Vernon is the headliner there but they also added Damon Harrison and Jarvis Jenkins. They still have Eli Manning who had a really good year last year and Odell Beckham. This is going to be a tough road game. Winnable, but tough.

Week 12: vs. Titans

Breakdown: With the bevy of picks that Tennessee just acquired for the No. 1 selection, it's a safe bet that the Titans will have a lot of young guys playing for them. Mike Mularky's 18-39 head coaching record doesn't exactly scream that this team is going to be improving by double-digits this year.

Week 13: vs. 49ers

Breakdown: One would hope that the Bears want to wipe away the unpleasant memory of last year's ugly loss, which was coincidentally also in Week 13. The Bears have improved too much to let Blaine Gabbert get loose for a long TD run again (hopefully). Will it even be Gabbert? It's hard to see San Francisco improving dramatically but they have a new coach and they did beat the Bears the last time they met.

Week 14: at Lions

Breakdown: Win in the division, in December. That's what playoff teams do. The Bears have win games like this to get back to the postseason. The Lions lost Calvin Johnson, but they always play the Bears tough.

Week 15: vs. Packers

Breakdown: It's the same story line it's been for all the division games. This is a must-win for playoff teams in December, simple as that. The Bears have not beaten the Packers at Soldier Field since Monday, September 27, 2010. Defend your home turf and end the painful run of Packers domination.

Week 16: vs. Washington

Breakdown: The Bears lost by three to the D.C. squad last year as their bad December piled up. The Bears were in it with a team fighting for a playoff spot. Just like many of the other games on the '16 slate, this is a shot for the Bears to avenge a game that got away from them last time.

Week 17: at Vikings

Breakdown: The Bears' first trip to the new Vikings stadium, which is located on Chicago Avenue, will be a chance for the Bears to leave their mark inside it. The Bears never did fare too well inside the old Vikings indoor stadium so hopefully this will be a start of a good road win streak. There is a good chance that this game could have playoff implications to boot.

Final thoughts: I can see as many as 11 wins on the schedule, but that's easy to say in April when everyone is healthy and draft picks aren't making an impact. The fact is that the Bears were last in their division and the NFC North had two playoff teams a year ago. John Fox is known for his year two improvement but it will still be a tough task. How many wins do you see?