It’s not how you start it’s how you finish.
With five of eight away from Soldier Field to begin the season, including four against 2013 playoff participants, the Bears take exception to that saying.
The unveiling of the 2014 schedule Wednesday night confirmed the order in which the Bears will face opponents we’ve already known for months, but it also revealed a number of unusual scheduling issues for Chicago.
There will be plenty of time to break down a pair of games against 1985 Bears-turned-coaches, three against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks and arguably the top five tight ends in the NFL all squaring off against the safety-deficient Bears.
But five games in primetime, including back-to-back Thursday games? Traveling coast to coast in the first three weeks? Not playing the Packers after Week 10? Several high-profile renewing of acquaintances? That’s plenty to digest in one column.
After hosting an improved Bills club in Week One, the Bears should quickly find out if their aggressive offseason approach will lead to better results in 2014. A defense that was uncharacteristically pushed around last season was rebuilt to have more resistance and tenacity up front. San Francisco and the New York Jets, ground-and-pound aficionados, on opposite coasts in consecutive weeks, both in primetime, will be an early gauge of the Bears’ added toughness.
Then, the violence of Eddie Lacy’s rushing style and last December’s heartbreak revisited against the Packers at Soldier Field. Gut-check time could come early for the Bears this season.
After a Week Nine bye, the Bears head to Lambeau for their second battle with the Packers before Thanksgiving (more on that in a minute). Just as Chicago had to relive the horrors of hosting Green Bay in last season’s finale, Aaron Rodgers will be reminded plenty Shea McClellin’s collarbone-breaking hit. Julius Peppers’ motor isn’t always revved, but it’s a safe bet it will be for this one.
With apologies to Corey Wootton, a different defensive end reunion the next week will be the main course. The Vikings dealt for Jared Allen in 2007 after watching him singlehandedly destroy them the season prior. Will we see similar results in his first opportunity to torment the club that let him walk in the offseason?
Lovie Smith returns to Soldier Field the following week, where emotions will be high on both sides. Bears fans might have grown tired of Lovie’s act by the time he was fired, but there is little question the Bears loved playing for him. Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and others will have to be mentally tough to bring their best against a coach who brought out their best for close to a decade.
Conversely, how will Josh McCown – assuming he’s still the starter – perform in front of Marc Trestman, arguably the man most responsible for McCown’s rebirth.
CREATURES OF HABIT?
In Weeks 13-15, the Bears will play on consecutive Thursdays – at Detroit on Thanksgiving, against Dallas on “Thursday Night Football” – before the mini-bye precedes a Monday-night contest against the Saints at Soldier Field.
The bizarre scheduling is hardly ideal – coaches often talk about wanting to play as many Sunday noon games as possible. NFL players are such creatures of habit during a season, but the Bears largely will be an exception to that rule this season. Watching film, getting treatment, installing game plans, practicing will all be done on a different schedule. True, Dallas will be in the same Thursday mode – and the Bears will welcome a mini-bye before a massive NFC clash against New Orleans – but curious to see how Trestman plans to approach this stretch.
NO LATE-SEASON RIVALRY
For the first time since 1997, the Bears and Packers won’t meet after Week 10. The Bears could benefit more from this arrangement, as Green Bay hosts both Philadelphia and New England in the final seven weeks, while the Bears have just one 2013 playoff opponent, New Orleans, during that span. If Rodgers-to-Cobb in last year’s finale, Peppers now in Title Town, and Jay Cutler’s long suffering against the Packers didn’t give this rivalry enough juice, the necessity for both teams to take care of business earlier than usual in what could be a two-horse race in the division should magnify these contests.