Heading into this offseason, Chicago Bears fans were biting their nails out of concern for what moves this team would, or wouldn't, make to improve the team. But after the moves they made in both free agency, and the draft, the fan base is highly optimistic heading into 2021. But this team will have a tall task ahead if it wants to make a second straight playoff appearance and beyond. The Bears will have one of the more difficult schedules in the league this season, which has some predicting a losing record, especially with the added 17th game. Here are five takeaways from the Bears' 2021 schedule.
1. Multiple matchups against playoff teams from last season
The Bears will play seven of last year's postseason teams. They open the season in Los Angeles against the Rams (Sept. 12), they travel to Cleveland to play the Browns two weeks later (Sept. 26), then have crucial October matchups with the Green Bay Packers (Week 6, Oct. 17), and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in consecutive weeks (Oct. 24). They open November with a trip to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers (Week 9, Nov. 8), then host the Baltimore Ravens after their Week 10 bye (Nov. 21). The Bears also will head to the Pacific Northwest in late December to face the Seattle Seahawks (Week 16, Dec. 26). Last year these teams posted a combined record of 80-32.
2. The national television spotlight
The opener in Los Angeles ("Sunday Night Football"), the road trip to Pittsburgh (Week 9, "Monday Night Football"), the Week 14 rivalry renewal with Green Bay at Lambeau Field ("Sunday Night Football"), and the following week's NFC North showdown at home against Minnesota ("Monday Night Football") will all take place in prime time. Additionally, the Bears will be in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day to help kick off the holiday tripleheader (12:30 p.m. ET, FOX).
Besides being divisional contests, the games against Green Bay and Detroit will be important to watch. Chicago is just 1-6 against the Packers the teams' last seven nationally televised matchups. The Bears also will be making their fourth Thanksgiving Day appearance in the Motor City against the Lions since 2014. They have won the past two Turkey Day encounters (2018, '19).
3. West Coast Bears
The NFC North being matched up with the NFC West in crossover play means Chicago will be making several trips west this season. Besides the aforementioned season opener in Los Angeles against the Rams and the Week 16 date in Seattle, the Bears will head to Las Vegas to play the Raiders in Week 5 (Oct. 10). The last time these two teams played was two years ago over in London, a game the Raiders (who were still in Oakland at the time) won 24-21. Additionally, Chicago will host San Francisco on Halloween (Week 8) and Arizona in early December (Week 13) to round out its NFC West slate. The last time the Bears faced all four teams from the NFC West was in the 2018 season. They swept all four games beating the Seahawks and Rams at home and knocking off the Cardinals and 49ers on the road.
Besides the usual NFC North rivals, this season will feature several other familiar foes. The season opener against the Rams will be the Bears' second trip to SoFi Stadium in as many seasons (lost in 2020) and the fourth straight campaign they have played them (won in 2019). Chicago's Week 17 home game against the Giants also mark the fourth straight season the two teams have faced off (Bears have won the past two meetings). And the Week 7 trip to Tampa Bay will give the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers a chance to exact a little payback after falling to the Bears 20-19 at Soldier Field in Week 5 last season. I like to call it the "Khalil Mack hip toss game."
5. Defenses will be tested
With the NFL becoming a pass-happy league everything revolves around the quarterbacks. And the Bears' defense will certainly be tested in 2021 based on the signal-callers that litter their slate. Barring injury, Chicago is set to face (as of now) Matthew Stafford, Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo (or Trey Lance), Ben Rothlisberger, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Daniel Jones. Regardless of your opinion of some of the quarterbacks in that list, the challenge that awaits Chicago's defense this season is pretty clear.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top graphic courtesy of @ChicagoBears)