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.