Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre represent a freakish stretch of 30 years with two quarterbacks starting virtually every Packers game while the Chicago Bears have wandered through the wilderness with 35 quarterback starters.
The Chicago Bears schedule is set for what is bound to be a rebuilding season under new general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus.
That said, the Bears still get the national spotlight a few times this season with three prime-time games — including one against the rival Green Bay Packers.
Here’s a look at the schedule and how the Tribune's Bears writers pick the games:
Week 1: Bears vs. San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, Sept. 11, noon, FOX
In order to jump up nine slots in the 2021 draft, the 49ers traded their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 plus a 2021 third-round selection to the Miami Dolphins. That was an expensive vote of confidence from general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan in quarterback Trey Lance, whom the 49ers selected at No. 3. Could this be Lance’s first NFL start? At Soldier Field? In a showdown against fellow Class of 2021 quarterback Justin Fields? (Oh, yeah, this will also be the Bears’ home opener, raising the curtain on the Eberflus era.)
Brad Biggs: 49ers
Colleen Kane: 49ers
Dan Wiederer: 49ers
Week 2: Bears at Green Bay Packers
Sunday, Sept. 18, 7:20 p.m., NBC
Eberflus better have his H.I.T.S. principle fully engrained by the end of August. The new coach’s first attempt to slow down Aaron Rodgers comes early. Including the playoffs, Rodgers is 23-5 as a starter against the Bears. That includes a 12-1 mark in games at Lambeau Field that he has both started and finished. (Rodgers left a Week 9 loss to the Bears in 2013 with a broken collarbone.) Rodgers also has shown a knack for embarrassing the Bears on the Sunday night stage, beating them six times in six tries with four of those victories by double digits.
Week 3: Bears vs. Houston Texans
Sunday, Sept. 25, noon, CBS
Lovie Smith went 0-2 against the Bears as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including a 21-13 loss in his return to Soldier Field in November 2014. Now he’s starting anew in Houston and facing an uphill battle with a Texans team that went 8-25 over the last two seasons and is widely considered one of the NFL’s three worst. Carpe diem, Bears. Carpe diem.
Week 4: Bears at New York Giants
Sunday, Oct. 2, noon, FOX
The Bears have used the Giants as a pain reliever in three of the last four seasons. Win. Win. Win. Albeit in games that had minimal entertainment value. Last season’s Week 17 meeting at Soldier Field was a 29-3 blowout in which the Giants finished with minus-6 net passing yards. Could this early-October trip be part of a welcome early stretch that offers an opportunity to build momentum and belief? Or will Brian Daboll, a candidate for the Bears coaching job last winter, have the Giants offense rolling?
Week 5: Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, Oct. 9, noon, FOX
The Bears haven’t traveled to the Twin Cities before Thanksgiving since 2006. This season they’ll finally get a sampling of what fall is like in Minneapolis. This will also be the Bears’ first look at a Vikings organization that went into full reboot mode in January, hiring Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their GM and Kevin O’Connell as coach.
Week 6: Bears vs. Washington Commanders
Thursday, Oct. 13, 7:15 p.m., Prime Video
If anyone should have a full understanding of how to fluster new Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz, it’s Eberflus and Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams, who saw Wentz in practice every day last season with the Indianapolis Colts. Wentz, it should be noted, is 3-0 all time as a starter against the Bears. In another head-scratching and dispiriting trivia nugget, the Bears are 1-8 against Washington at Soldier Field since winning Super Bowl XX.
Week 7: Bears at New England Patriots
Monday, Oct. 24, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
This “Monday Night Football” contest at Gillette Stadium will showcase Fields versus Mac Jones in a rematch of the January 2021 college football national title game. (Jones and Alabama downed Fields and Ohio State 52-24.) For what it’s worth, the Bears haven’t beaten the Patriots since 2000, back Dick Jauron was their coach, Shane Matthews was starting at quarterback and Tom Brady was just an obscure rookie backup in New England. Since then? The Patriots, with Brady at the steering wheel, have beaten the Bears five times in a row by an average score of 35-21. Brady threw for 1,595 yards with 14 touchdown passes in those matchups. But hey, a new era is upon us. Who knows, right?
Week 8: Bears at Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, Oct. 30, noon, FOX
Rookie defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker should be in midseason form by this point, which is a must as the Bears head to Jerry World attempting to slow an offensive fireworks show featuring Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz. Meanwhile, young defensive stars Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs have the Cowboys eyeing a Super Bowl run.
Week 9: Bears vs. Miami Dolphins
Sunday, Nov. 6, noon, CBS
While Eberflus might face a steep uphill climb trying to install his program and change the culture in his first season, he should take solace that he is not alone in that mission. More than a quarter of the teams in the league changed head coaches after last season, including the Dolphins, who replaced Brian Flores with Mike McDaniel.
Week 10: Bears vs. Detroit Lions
Sunday, Nov. 13, noon, FOX
The Lions have quietly positioned themselves to be playoff contenders with a promising nucleus of young talent that includes first-round picks Aidan Hutchinson and Jameson Williams as well as offensive tackle Penei Sewell, receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, tight end T.J. Hockenson and cornerback Amani Oruwariye. Yes, they still need a plan at quarterback beyond Jared Goff. But there has been a recent surge of optimism in Detroit about the direction of things under coach Dan Campbell.
Week 11: Bears at Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, Nov. 20, noon, FOX
The Falcons have two of the most exciting young pass-catching talents in the league with tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Drake London. The big question: Which Falcons quarterback will be throwing the ball in November? Bridge quarterback Marcus Mariota or rookie Desmond Ridder?
Week 12: Bears at New York Jets
Sunday, Nov. 27, noon, FOX
The retooling Jets grabbed four exciting players in the first 36 picks of last month’s draft. Cornerback Sauce Gardner, receiver Garrett Wilson, edge rusher Jermaine Johnson and running back Breece Hall figure to play prominent roles in 2022 for a floundering franchise that is refilling on hope. Of course, most of that hinges on the development of second-year quarterback Zach Wilson, who could be in line here to be the third Class of 2021 first-round quarterback to go head-to-head with Fields.
Week 13: Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
Sunday, Dec. 4, noon, FOX
Aaron Rodgers’ field trip to Soldier Field last season seemed like it might be setting up to be his final such excursion to Chicago as Packers quarterback. Instead, Rodgers found 200 million reasons to run it back for at least another couple of years. Ol’ No. 12 just seems to have that knack for torturing Bears fans in the cruelest of ways. In early December, fans in the lowest rows behind the end zones at Soldier Field should have themselves ready. Rodgers, as you probably know, has shown he’s willing to engage in a little back-and-forth.
Week 14: Bye
The Bears’ Week 14 bye is late — very late. So late, in fact, that it’s the latest since 1999, which also came in Week 14.
Week 15: Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, Dec. 18, noon, FOX
In an attempt to get young quarterback Jalen Hurts the weaponry he needs, the Eagles got aggressive, trading for A.J. Brown and then giving the big-play receiver a four-year, $100 million extension. As the Bears continue tweaking the ideal formula for Fields’ development, Brown’s production is at least worth monitoring.
Week 16: Bears vs. Buffalo Bills
Saturday, Dec. 24, noon, CBS
Just leaving this here as a Christmas Eve stocking stuffer. Fields had a completion percentage of .589 and a passer rating of 73.2 as a rookie, throwing for 1,870 yards with seven touchdown passes in 12 games. Three years earlier, Bills quarterback Josh Allen had a completion percentage of .528 and a passer rating of 67.9, throwing for 2,074 yards with 10 touchdown passes in 12 games. Now Allen is a favorite for league MVP honors and eyeing a possible charge to the Super Bowl. We’re not saying … we’re just saying.
Week 17: Bears at Detroit Lions
Sunday, Jan. 1, noon, FOX
Happy New Year! The Bears have won at Ford Field four years in a row, and this is the team’s only road game after Week 12. Who knows? Maybe this becomes part of a solid finish that propels a young Bears team into 2023 with momentum and confidence.
Week 18: Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Bears and Vikings have become close season-finale buddies, meeting on the final Sunday of the regular season seven times over the last 11 years. This time, however, Soldier Field will be the stage for the finale. Will there be anything at stake besides draft positioning?
Brad Biggs: 6-11
There should be great buildup for the season opener against the 49ers for a game between franchises that traded up to draft quarterbacks in 2021 — and took very different approaches in preparing their signal caller. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was adamant Trey Lance, the No. 3 pick, would learn behind Jimmy Garoppolo. The Bears were forced to turn to Justin Fields in Week 2 when Andy Dalton was injured and then stuck with him until he was sidelined with an injury. Fields has more experience, including at the college level, while Lance is on a far better roster.
New coach Matt Eberflus gets a quick indoctrination into the team’s rivalry with the Packers in Week 2. Four of the last five Bears coaches have won their first game at Lambeau Field, and Matt Nagy lost by only one point.
After alternating between away and home games every week last season, the Bears play on the road in four of five games in October with the only home date Oct. 13 against the Washington Commanders in Week 6. That’s going to put pressure on a young team, especially with games against two 2021 playoff teams, the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys.
A week 14 bye on the weekend of Dec. 11 is suboptimal, but Eberflus and staff will get a mini-bye in October with 11 days between the Commanders and a “Monday Night Football” game against the Patriots on Oct. 24.
The development of Fields will be one of if not the most important storyline. The Bears play three other quarterbacks drafted in 2021 besides Lance: Davis Mills of the Texans (Week 3), Mac Jones of the Patriots (Week 7) and Zach Wilson of the Jets (Week 12). Those head-to-head battles will be measuring sticks.
Colleen Kane: 7-10
The Bears’ strength of schedule is tied for 24th in the league, according to NFL.com, so perhaps there’s an opportunity for a largely unproven group of players and coaches to pull off a couple of surprise wins. But there’s so much unknown about this team, including where Justin Fields’ development is headed under new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, whether Fields can succeed with the current group of linemen and receivers and how a defense without Khalil Mack takes shape under Eberflus. It’s hard to predict anything other than a losing record in the first year of Poles’ remodeling project.
Eberflus doesn’t have an easy first two games out of the gate against the 49ers and then the Packers at Lambeau Field. But Fields and company should have a nice three weeks to settle in after that and prepare for a key stretch that includes two prime-time games, including one against the Patriots and second-year quarterback Mac Jones in New England, followed by a road game against the Cowboys.
The Bears at least have a mini-bye in October — 11 days between the Thursday and Monday night games — because a Week 14 bye week is rough for a new coach and young team.
It’s odd the NFL scheduled only one road game over the final six weeks of the season, a quirk that would be great for the Bears and their fans if the team could remain in the playoff hunt late into December and January. If not, braving the cold at Soldier Field on Christmas Eve against the Bills or in the finale against the Vikings might not be very appealing.
Dan Wiederer: 5-12
It’s easy to look at the Bears schedule and identify windows of opportunity. A chance for a faster-than-expected start? Sure. It’s not unreasonable for the Bears to be competitive enough to win three of their first six. A late-season stretch in which they play only one road game after Thanksgiving weekend? That sets up a potentially comforting finish. And man, this year’s list of opposing starting quarterbacks is nowhere near as intimidating as last season’s. OK. Think positive. Perhaps this won’t be as painful of a season as it seemed.
But then? Well, reality speaks up. In a bold and doubtful tone.
Seven of the Bears’ 17 games will be played against opponents who made the playoffs last season. Twelve will come against foes who had more wins than they did a year ago. And that was before a front-office and coaching staff reboot at Halas Hall triggered a roster-gutting project that has put the team in the earliest stages of a demanding and tedious rebuild. The Bears roster, as presently constructed, is nowhere near as talented or sturdy as the one that contributed to a 6-11 finish last season.
Furthermore, the Bears will play four October road games with trips to face the Giants, Vikings, Patriots and Cowboys during a demanding 28-day window. That stretch not only figures to test the patience of a fan base increasingly on edge but should also reveal Eberflus’ ability to steady a rocking ship.
Through a rational lens, the 50,000-foot view remains the same. This figures to be a long season. As results go, this sets up to be a transition season that likely will be low on landmark moments and signature victories.