Arkush: What does Bears schedule really mean?

Chicago's Martellus Bennett (left) and Brandon Marshall dance on the field while warming up before Thursday's game against the New York Giants Thursday, October 10, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago. (Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com)

Every year about this time, the NFL releases its schedule for the coming season and I begin to shudder with frustration as pundits, analysts and fans rush to judgment over how their favorite club has been punished unfairly with the difficulty of its task while their chief opponents have hit the lottery with a simple walk in the park.

It’s just dumb, guys!

The facts of life in the National Football League today are that the NFL can in fact signify "Not For Long." Clubs that were playoff powers last year will be cupcakes this year, and a number of last year’s patsies will be powerhouses this year.

Over the past 18 seasons, at least one club, often two or three, who finished last in their divisions the previous season have won a division crown. EVERY YEAR!

In 2013, the Kansas City Chiefs went from 2-14 to 11-5 and a wild card. The Houston Texans went from 12-4 Division champs to 2-14. The Redskins fell from 10-6 atop the NFC East to dead last at 3-13. The Minnesota Vikings were a 10-6 wild card who fell to 5-10. The Atlanta Falcons went from the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed at 13-3 to 4-12. The Carolina Panthers flipped from 7-9 to the NFC’s No. 2 seed in 2013 at 12-4. New Orleans moved from 7-9 to a wild card 11-5. The Arizona Cardinals flipped from 5-11 to 10-6. And the Philadelphia Eagles made the leap from the NFC East cellar at 4-12 to 10-6 division champs.

The Bears will play four games against three 2013 last-place teams. Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Buffalo each finished last in their divisions in 2013. If history repeats itself, there is a 3-in-8 chance, 38 percent, that one of them will be a division champ this year.

Do you want to go week-to-week right now and predict the Bears record for 2014? Go ahead, knock yourself out ... and waste your time. There is actually more data available to accurately predict when the state of Illinois might go bankrupt than there is to say who the Bears will beat and who they’ll lose to this year.

There are just a couple of worthwhile observations we can make about the Bears’ schedule. I suspect that in a perfect world, every team in the league would like to play two games at home, two on the road, two at home, etc. throughout the season. That never happens.

That the Bears have to play four of their first six and six of their first nine on the road, including visits to perennial powers San Francisco, New England and Green Bay, is a very tough putt.

On the other hand, getting five of their last seven, including three in a row in December, at home could prove to be a big win.

If the Bears can weather the early storm at 5-4 or better, they will be in great shape for a playoff run. On the other hand, a 3-6 start could end the season by the bye week.

If you have to get the Niners, do you want them in their first-ever game in their brand new stadium? Of course not. But if you have to get the Niners, would you like them Week Two when they’ll be without NaVorro Bowman and quite possibly Aldon Smith, and their completely revamped secondary is still trying to figure things out? Absolutely.

Are you happy the Bears and Packers will be done with each other by Week 10? I’m not.

Do you like getting five prime time games and a sixth national TV audience on Thanksgiving Day? Based on recent history, I could be happier.

Here is everything we really know. The Bears have significantly upgraded their talent on defense, and should be better on offense with everyone back and another year in Marc Trestman’s system. They will be one of the oldest teams in the league, which may not bode well for the future but should give them all the veteran savvy they need to make a playoff run, perhaps a deep run this season.

Here’s everything we know now that we didn’t know before yesterday. If this is the year you decided to travel to see the Bears because you already knew where they were going and wanted to make the trip, now you can make your plans. That truly is it.

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