I have argued for years, into the deaf ears of God knows who on God knows what bar stool, the NFL schedule should open with each team playing their four non-conference games. These games have no bearing on playoff tiebreaking scenarios and would enable organizations to find a rhythm on both sides of the ball with the slightest win-loss stakes they’ll see all year long. (I understand no NFL game has a low win-loss stake but these games mean the least, comparably.) This is essentially how the major college conferences organize their schedules, giving programs an opportunity to work out kinks before playing the more heavily weighted conference schedule. Not a lot of logistical elements are sound when it comes to the NCAA. This one is.
The Bears survived their difficult early-season schedule, losing games to New Orleans and Green Bay that I’d love to see replayed today. (I continue to say that there isn’t a team in the league that could have survived Detroit on that Monday night.) They released their aggression from the false-start laden evening effort in Detroit by pounding the Vikings, running the Bucs out of London, delivering an inspired effort in Philadelphia and manhandling the Lions offense is the ultimate act of revenge. They are now 6-3, in pole position for the NFC wildcard, and look like one of the handful of teams out there that can challenge the Green Bay Packers for the Halas Trophy and conference control. The Packer success is, in fact, the only thing keeping the city of Chicago from being engulfed in dreams of the Super Bowl. Folks know the road to ultimate glory will be on the road.
Now the AFC West stands in their way. In the next four weeks, in a truly bizarre scheduling occurrence, the Bears will host the Chargers, travel to Oakland, host the Chiefs and travel to Denver. Who are these teams? Let me tell you.
San Diego’s super Chargers are one of the sport’s true enigmas. They are a talented group, specifically on offense, but their quarterback is having his worst season as a professional. Rivers won’t care how far Chris Conte plays from the line of scrimmage; he’s throwing the ball deep.
The Oakland Raiders are now the Carson Palmer Raiders and that means one thing to me: the Bears are going to have 3-5 opportunities that afternoon to intercept the football. Oakland has clearly been missing star tailback Darren McFadden of late but they are strong up front on defense and will be a playoff team once the former Arkansas star returns.
Kansas City is going to come to Soldier Field and be beaten brutally for two reasons. (1) I’m going to be there. (2) They’re not any good.
The Broncos game would have been all about Cutler’s return to Denver but Jay is a distant memory to an organization currently being led by Tebus of Nazareth. If the Bears defense, with all their speed, is defeated by a team running an option offense, I may hang up my NFL fan boots.
These four teams arrive on the schedule at a time when the Bears are playing their best football and a 3-1 stretch will all but assure our boys in Chicago a berth in the postseason. (The Bears may be favored in all four though I’m suspecting a bit of a letdown this weekend against SD.) The wildcard position looks like it is going to mean a trip to either New Orleans or New Jersey. A vaunted opponent in an iconic setting. Can the Bears win at either location? Absolutely. And if the Bears are not just a good team but a Super Bowl contender, they will showcase their wares against one of the shakiest divisions in the entirety of the league over the next month.