Should you be worried about the ‘hardest’ stretch of the Bears’ schedule? Hardly

Should you be worried about the ‘hardest’ stretch of the Bears’ schedule? Hardly

When 2018’s schedule was released, a reasonable observer could’ve looked at the Bears’ final four games as the toughest stretch of the year: At home against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers, then on the road against the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings. Our own John “Moon” Mullin, for instance, picked the Bears to lose all four of those games when the schedule game out last April, and was thoroughly reasoned in believing that. 

The Bears were two weeks away from drafting Roquan Smith, Anthony Miller, James Daniels and Bilal Nichols and were four and a half months away from trading for Khalil Mack when last year’s schedule came out. Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t yet torn his ACL, nor had Aaron Rodgers suffered a knee injury at the hands of Roy Robertson-Harris. The Vikings were not only the clear favorite in the NFC North, but were considered a Super Bowl contender. 

As it turned out, only the Rams met the expectations set on them last April. And the Bears still won that game in one of the most dominant defensive performances seen at Soldier Field in recent memory. 

The Bears’ 2019 schedule inherently is more difficult. Instead of playing the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they get the New Orleans Saints by virtue of both teams winning their respective divisions. The Los Angeles Rams are again on the schedule, this time in the warm confines of California. And the Bears — like the rest of the NFC North — swap the three-team flotsam of the AFC East for the AFC West, which might wind up being one of the best conferences in the NFL this year. 

All this, of course, is said before the NFL Draft and long before any injuries or cuts re-shape rosters across the league. Right now, there are two stretches of the Bears’ schedule that look the most difficult: Weeks 7-9 (Saints, Chargers, at Eagles) and Weeks 14-17 (Cowboys, at Packers, Chiefs, at Vikings). 

But the flip side to that stretch is this: The Bears emerged from their most difficult stretch of 2018 — which wound up being a three-division-games-in-12-days stretch with the shortest turnaround in NFL history — with a 3-0 record. That stretch was one of the biggest season-defining moments for a team that went on to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years. 

“What they saw was if they just believe in what we’re telling them and how they do it, to trust us, that we’ll win games,” Nagy said of that stretch. “And we did that. We went 3-0. After we got by that stretch our guys, you could really feel whatever we said, they were all in on. Whether it was pulling back reps or adding reps, the quality vs. quantity deal, how we’re going to approach the playoffs, how we’re going to approach in the playoffs and I just — I thought that was really good.”

The Bears didn’t know how difficult that stretch would be until their game against the Vikings was flexed to Sunday Night Football, creating that grueling turnaround ahead of an early kickoff against the Lions on Thanksgiving. The toughest stretch doesn’t have to involve the most difficult opponents, too. 

But right now, while Weeks 7-9 and 14-17 look difficult, keep in mind: It won’t necessarily stay that way in the fall. And if it does, the Bears could always wind up turning it into a positive, too. 

The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

America got a taste of live sports on Sunday via The Match, a charity golf outing pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. The competition raised $10 million for coronavirus relief.

It also offered Manning the chance to take a friendly jab at Brady, long his competitor on the gridiron, using new Bears quarterback Nick Foles.

In a mid-match interview, Manning noted how it's difficult to get to Brady's head on the field. The former Colts and Broncos quarterback then named two potential caddies he could have brought to disrupt Brady's focus: his brother, Eli Manning, and Foles.

"Do you bring Eli? Could do that," Manning said. "Do you bring Nick Foles? Maybe."

"Cheap shot," Brady said in response, grinning.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII two years ago, with Foles, a backup turned starter, leading the charge. Based on Brady's comment, Manning may have struck a nerve with the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Foles got in on the fun on Twitter:

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2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

The game

The Bears will make a late-season visit to Jacksonville on Dec. 27. The last time the Bears faced the Jaguars, Jacksonville prevailed 17-16 on Oct. 16, 2016, thanks to a late TD pass from Blake Bortles to former Fighting Illini wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Rest assured, there will be some extra motivation on the sideline this time around, as former Jaguars Nick Foles and Allen Robinson face their ex-teammates.

Player to watch

The Bears will be facing the man who replaced Foles as Jaguars starting QB last season, Gardner Minshew. In 14 games, he threw for nearly 3,300 yards with 21 TD and 6 INT, but Jacksonville ranked just 26th in the league in total scoring and limped to a 6-10 record. Entering his first full season as the unquestioned starter, Minshew will have DJ Chark as a top target after the wideout exploded onto the scene last season.

RELATED: Bears 2020 schedule: Game-by-game predictions

Additions and subtractions

One defensive standout to keep an eye on is Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville’s best pass-rusher who had the franchise tag placed on him but has repeatedly demanded a trade. Whether or not a trade partner is found will be the biggest issue facing the team as they head toward training camp, whenever that may be. Jacksonville also added talented but injury-plagued tight end Tyler Eifert in free agency.

Key storyline

Since their tough loss in the 2018 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, the Jaguars have torn their roster to shreds as they move into the next era of their franchise. Standout players sent packing over the last year or so include Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and of course, Nick Foles.

New GM David Caldwell is nearly done purging the roster, and that means this Jacksonville team will be playing the long game and likely setting themselves up for a top pick in next year’s draft.

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