Bears will have to navigate a more competitive schedule if they want to make back-to-back playoff appearances
What a difference a year makes. The Chicago Bears posted their best season since 2010 last year, but they did have an advantage in terms of scheduling. Only three of last year's opponents (Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams) made the playoffs with the Patriots winning Super Bowl LIII. So given their success in 2018 and other factors, you figured their upcoming slate would increase the degree of difficulty, and that's exactly what happened.
This season, the Bears will play seven teams that posted winning records in 2018. They'll also have a huge rematch, will travel "across the pond," face their former defensive coordinator, take on a former teammate, and get plenty of TV time in the process.
The Bears certainly have the talent, but they will need to pick up some huge wins this year if they want to get back to the postseason and perhaps win another division title. Here are five thoughts on the Bears' schedule as the historic franchise and NFL both their celebrate their 100th anniversary in 2019.
1. Plenty of national television exposure
The Bears will get the both the prime-time and holiday spotlight on six occasions this year. They'll host the Green Bay Packers in the first Thursday night game of the season to kick off the 2019 season on Sept. 5, travel to our nation's capital to play Washington to close out Week 3 on "Monday Night Football" (Sept. 23), then go to Los Angeles to face the Rams in a rematch from last season for "Sunday Night Football" in Week 11 (Nov. 17). After that, it's a trip to Detroit to face the Lions on Thanksgiving day (Week 13) for the second straight year, followed by another SNF appearance in Week 16 when Chicago will host the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 22).
This will be the first time that the Bears have opened a season on Thursday night and it's appropriate that the NFL's 100th season will kick off with the 199th meeting between two of the league's oldest franchises. The Packers lead the all-time series 97-95-6 and eveyrone probably remembers last year's thrilling season opener at Lambeau Field that featured Khali Mack's Chicago debut and another improbable comeback orchestrated by Aaron Rodgers.
The Week 11 rematch against the Rams will be the Bears' first trip to Los Angeles since the 1993 season, while the Thanksgiving Day encounter with the Lions will be the team's 36th such game in franchise history. The Bears are 19-15-2 on Turkey Day.
2. A test against the AFC West
Last year the Bears had to take on the entire AFC East (went 2-2 in those games). This year they'll have a much tougher challenge when they go toe-to-toe with the entire AFC West, which sent half of its teams to the playoffs and posted a combined 34-30 record in 2018. Aside from playing Kansas City at home in Week 16, the Bears will also host the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8 (Oct. 27), and hit the road to face the Denver Broncos in Week 2 (Sept. 15), and take a really long trip to play the Oakland Raiders in Week 5 (Oct. 6). Not only will those games determine how Chicago's season plays out, some of these matchups offer even more intrigue (see below).
3. Matchups with familar faces
This is the most interesting aspect of this year's schedule. When Chicago heads to Denver in Week 2 it will be to face former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who's now the Broncos head coach. And it should be quite the chess match as Fangio is quite familar with the Bears offense, just as head coach Matt Nagy knows how the Broncos will most likely operate on defense. Three weeks later, it will be Khalil Mack's turn to face his former team when Chicago and Oakland meet up. The blockbuster trade that sent Mack to Chicago last September not only sent shockwaves through the NFL, it was a big reason why the Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North last season.
The Week 9 road trip to face the Philadelphia Eagles will not only be a rematch of last year's playoff loss, but you can bet that former Bear Jordan Howard will be aching to get some carries. And the Sunday night home game against Kansas City will see student vs. mentor as Nagy will go head-to-head against Andy Reid, his former boss with the Chiefs (and prior to that the Eagles). That game also will pit reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes against the Bears defense under new coordinator Chuck Pagano.
4. They're going to London
You know that game with the Raiders? To add to the intrigue, it's one of the four games this season that will be played in London. The Week 5 contest on Oct. 6 will be the first NFL game played in the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. So on top of the Mack vs. Raiders storyline, the Bears are making their first trip to England since beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-18 during the 2011 season. As a whole, NFC North teams are 4-1 in games played in London, so not only will Mack be looking to make an impression agianst his former team, the Bears are tasked with maintaining the division's success across the pond.
5. The elite competition will be tough
As previously stated, the Bears will play seven teams that finished with a winning record in 2018. Those seven teams (Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles, Rams, Saints, Vikings) went a combined 77-34 and all but Minnesota made the playoffs. Dallas, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans all won their respective divisions while the Los Angleles Chargers and Philadephia both earned wild-card berths. Bears fans are still stinging from the one-point loss in the Wild Card Round to the Eagles whereas the Chiefs made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before falling to the Patriots, who beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
And don't forget about the two matchups with archrival Green Bay, the game in London against a rejuvenated Oakland, as well as the encounter with the Fangio-led Broncos. No matter how you slice it, the Bears will have their work cut for them in 2019.
— 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top graphic courtesy of @ChicagoBears)