The NFL schedule sages were kind to the Bears in two specific respects. A team with Andy Dalton potentially seeing significant time under center will not play back-to-back road games all season, barring an extended underdog playoff appearance. Also, a team with a rookie like Justin Fields potentially seeing significant time under center gets a glorious mid-season Week 10 bye. Nothing could be more important to let any team recalibrate than a rest week placed squarely in the middle of the first 17-game schedule in the Common Era.
Aside from those positive marks, not much else is working in the Bears’ autumn favor on-paper. Of the Bears’ 17 opponents, Chicago is currently scheduled to play seven postseason participants from last season, including a road outing against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not to mention what could portend to be the worst possible opening matchup for a team trying to develop a young quarterback in a Week 1 Sunday Night Football date with the Rams — a likely chic pick to win the NFC — in Southern California.
It indeed feels like a transitional year for this Halas Hall bunch. How they make the most of it remains to be seen.
In the second part of a schedule roundtable, our Windy City Gridiron team determines the most difficult and easiest games on the Bears’ 2021 schedule. It’s a seamless segue to pick holes in every opposing team and hang on for dear life before the summer even starts.
In case you missed it:
What are the most difficult games on the Bears’ schedule? What about the easiest?
Robert Zeglinski: The hardest game on the Bears’ schedule is by far that road dance against the Rams. Tom Brady’s Buccaneers are somehow still only rounding into form, but Khalil Mack’s presence gives me pause before anointing such a team as a Chicago-beater. The Rams, by direct contrast, had the NFL’s best defense last season and continue to have football’s premier non-quarterback in Aaron Donald. They also have the NFC’s best coach in Sean McVay, who somehow has new, flourishing buttons to push every year.
What Los Angeles has been missing all these years is a quarterback who doesn’t need a majority of successful plays radioed into his helmet headset. That makes Matthew Stafford, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in league history, who wasted his best years with a hapless regime in Detroit, a perfect match for McVay’s squad. I would be shocked if the Rams didn’t win at least 13 games this coming year, and if they didn’t paste a Bears group not ready to win by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a shame it’ll happen in front of a national audience, but those are the breaks.
The easiest game(s) I’ve alluded to: That Detroit season series. There is no reason to fear the Lions until, in all likelihood, 2023. In 2021, they’ll be one of the worst teams in pro football.
Lester Wiltfong Jr.: If Aaron Rodgers remains a Packer then those games will be the toughest. There’s also the Tom Brady Revenge Game, and don’t discount the Browns building off their 11-win 2020 campaign while taking another step this year.
As for the easiest, the Bengals game in the home opener seems like one I’d bet the Bears on. They’ll either be coming off the high of a big win in L.A., or looking to bounce back after a loss. With home field advantage actually meaning something this year, Week 2 should be a victory.
Josh Sunderbruch: The hardest game is going to be Week 7 at Tampa Bay. The Bucs lost last year’s game on a Brady mental error, and he’s going to want payback. I also think Week 1 at Los Angeles is going to be a real challenge, just because of that defense. If the Bears have an easy game it’s going to be hosting the Lions (Week 4) or at the Raiders. I don’t believe in either team yet.
Bill Zimmerman: I think you almost always have to pick a road game for a tough one, and I’ll push the Packers aside due to the uncertainty of Aaron Rodgers. It isn’t Tampa Bay despite being Super Bowl champs because the Bears beat them last year and have a blue print to follow. Among Seattle, Cleveland, and the Los Angeles Rams, I’m going to go with their opening game against against L.A. It’ll be the first game in L.A.’s new stadium, it’ll be packed (the first time they’ve had to deal with crowd noise since they were in Minnesota 20 months earlier), and there is plenty of talent on their roster to give the Bears trouble.
As for the easiest game, Cincinnati and Detroit at home jump off the page. Being that the Lions are a division rival, you can throw in that “anything can happen in a rivalry game” mentality, and it’s pretty easy to settle on Cincinnati as the easiest game.
Will Justin Fields be out there or will this be the Andy Dalton Revenge Game?
Jeff Berckes: I think the Rams game out of the gate is going to be the toughest game on the slate. As the schedule wears on, you might get lucky and catch a team in a slump or avoid a star player nursing an injury, but in Week 1, everyone is generally raring to go. I imagine it might take a little time for Sean Desai to find his footing as a defensive coordinator, and Sean McVay is going to be excited to play with his new quarterback.
Oh, and Aaron Donald is the best player in football.
The Bengals are likely going to be bad this year. Worse than Skyline Chili, their signature gastronomic achievement. It’s a nice, soft home opener and a chance for the adventurous Cincinnatians to get some real food.
Sam Householder: While there is a great argument that it’s the Rams game and I do think that’s a tough one, I am going to zag and bring up a sneaky difficult match up: The Steelers on Monday Night Football in Week 9.
The Steelers looked like world-beaters before fading last year, and I think their improved run game is going to make them hard to beat. They’re going to have a chip on their shoulder from how they finished, while making one last run with Ben Roethlisberger.
There aren’t many easy games in the NFL but I think the Giants are in for a rough go of it this year. Is Daniel Jones really The Guy? Doesn’t that situation feel like Mitch Trubisky a couple years ago? You’ve seen enough to know he’s not the future but he has moments of looking manageable. By Week 17 they could be looking like the 2020 Bears in a chaotic mess with no answers save for Saquon Barkley.
Will Robinson II: The most difficult game? Hmm, let me see. There’s so many to choose from!
Wait, I got it.
In their first game of the season, with either Andy Dalton or a rookie quarterback seeing his first NFL action, possibly two rookies starting at tackle, and a marginally downgraded defense, the Bears get to face a Rams team that utterly embarrassed them last season, who now have a quarterback that Sean McVay doesn’t have to read the field for over the headset, all while playing in primetime where the Bears went 1-4 last season. I mean, Tampa Bay and Baltimore are going to be tough, but the Rams on Sunday Night Football right out of the gate? That’s abuse.
As for easiest games, I’ll say this: In this Murderer’s Row of a schedule, it does feel pretty nice to get Detroit twice a year, especially with Jared Goff at the helm.
Hardest game: Week 1 at the Los Angeles Rams. I do believe the Bears’ defense matches up well against Matthew Stafford and their offense. Stafford is also 0-2 in Week 1 games against the Bears. However, that defense is not a joke. I don’t expect them to be as good without Brandon Staley as their defensive coordinator, but they still have an Aaron Donald at their disposal, along with a still-pissed off Leonard Floyd. Oh, and the Bears have plenty of new pieces on offense that need time to gel.
Easiest game: Week 4 at home vs. the Detroit Lions. You could slot the Bengals in, but I also think Joe Burrow will keep Week 2 tight against Chicago. Where Detroit’s attitude will be one that looks to start a bar fight, Chicago should finish said bar fight rather easily.
Hardest game: Assuming health for both teams, I think a well-rested Aaron-Rodgers-led Packers team will be tough to beat in Lambeau Field on December 12th. While the 49ers, Cardinals, Ravens, Browns, Rams, and Buccaneers will all be tough games, nothing’s been harder for the Bears than beating Rodgers. Until he leaves the division I don’t see that changing.
Easiest game: The Bears get the clear worst team on their schedule (Detroit) at home on October 3rd, four weeks into the season. Assuming Fields is starting by then, I don’t think the team that downgraded at quarterback and couldn’t stop Mitchell Trubisky will have answers for the Nagy-Fields pairing. Chicago will cruise to an easy win.
Jack R. Salo: The Bears play the defending champions in the stadium that said champions won the championship in — Week 7 at Tampa Bay is the toughest. Until anything formal is announced on Aaron Rodgers not playing for the Packers, I’ll also add the Bears’ game in Lambeau as a 1B for toughest game.
The easiest game on the schedule doesn’t change much year-to-year. It’s the Lions. Home or away, it’s the Lions.
Alex Obringer: The easy answer is Week 7 against the Buccaneers, but let’s not say that.
If recent history proves anything, it is that the Bears do not play well against mobile quarterbacks, and with Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray on the schedule, those two Quarterbacks will be a real test against Sean Desai and his defense.
Patti Curl: The most difficult will definitely be Week 17 against the Vikings when the Bears are resting their starters and Kirk Cousins is playing to save his job. It will be tight for three and a half quarters, but ultimately a Tre Roberson pick-six will seal the win.
The easiest will obviously be the Packers games. The Bears will need to take caution not to get overconfident. Remember: Even a dumpster fire can burn you twice a year.