Tennessee Titans

Bears 2020 schedule: Will Titans, Ryan Tannehill replicate magical 2019 run?

Bears 2020 schedule: Will Titans, Ryan Tannehill replicate magical 2019 run?

The Game

In Week 9, the Bears will face one of the biggest surprises in the league last season, the AFC finalist Tennessee Titans. The last time the Bears made the trek to Nashville on Nov. 4, 2012, traveling Chicago fans famously drank some local establishments dry and Lovie Smith’s squad waltzed to a 51-20 blowout win behind a pick-six by Brian Urlacher and four forced fumbles by Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

Player to Watch

Mike Vrabel made a quarterback change from Marcus Mariota to Ryan Tannehill early last season, and the former Dolphin lifted the team into the playoffs, earning a lucrative contract in the process. In 13 games last season, including the playoffs, Tannehill went 9-4, throwing for 3,111 yards with 27 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions. He received $91 million guaranteed for his efforts, and it will be interesting to see how the next act in his resurrected career will play out.

Additions & Subtractions

Alongside Tannehill, the Titans made sure their other standout performer from their playoff run stayed in town, slapping the franchise tag on running back Derrick Henry. The former Alabama star was unstoppable in January, and now he’ll pair with Tannehill for a full season. The Titans also signed former Falcons pass rusher Vic Beasley, while saying goodbye to their one-time franchise signal-caller in Mariota.

Key Storyline

The Titans were one of the league’s biggest surprises as they caught fire and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game. Can they repeat that success now that they have a target on their backs? The AFC South had a lot of personnel turnover with a QB change in Indianapolis and DeAndre Hopkins getting traded from Houston, so Tennessee might be able to take advantage and book a return trip to the playoffs.

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

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Bears' defining stretch of 2020 season will start vs. New Orleans Saints

Bears' defining stretch of 2020 season will start vs. New Orleans Saints

The NFL’s schedule release always feels kind of ridiculous, even for a league that loves the spotlight as much as The Shield does.

After all, we already knew all 16 teams the Bears were going to play in 2020. We knew it in late December, when the Bears’ third-place finish in the NFC North was finalized (and before most of the world knew about COVID-19). 

And the whole idea of releasing a completely normal schedule, and then getting excited about it, when no other major sports leagues (with all due respect to the Belarusian Premier League) are playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic seems absurd. 

[MORE: The five most interesting games on the Bears' 2020 schedule]

But, like everyone else, I still did game-by-game predictions even though there A) is nothing new and B) are questions about how much of the schedule will actually be played, and when. 

There is, though, one thing here worth looking at if a full 16-game season happens. So let’s ditch all those reservations for a moment and dive into that for right now.

Every season seems to have a critical stretch of games — usually three, four or five — that defines a year. For the 2018 Bears, it was a brutal three-games-in-11-days stretch against the Lions, Vikings and Lions. That year’s team went 3-0 in that stretch, with the Sunday night game against Minnesota a seminal moment for a magical year. 

2019’s critical stretch had the opposite effect. We thought before that year it was going to be a five-game gauntlet against the Saints, Chargers, Eagles, Lions and Rams. The Bears, it seemed last spring, needed to win at least three of those games to have a legit playoff shot.

After losing the first three in truly deflating fashion, the Bears earned a reprieve against the Lions before an ugly loss to the Rams in Los Angeles that ended with Mitch Trubisky mysteriously being benched. 

Going 1-4 in that stretch kept the Bears out of the playoffs. So what’s that stretch in 2020’s schedule?

In my game-by-game predictions, I have the Bears with a 5-2 record going into a Week 8 date with the New Orleans Saints. That game starts what should be the defining stretch of 2020: vs. New Orleans, at Tennessee, vs. Minnesota (Monday night), off week, at Green Bay (Sunday night).

I have the Bears going 2-2 in that quarter of the schedule, which might not feel defining (it might be more defining if the Bears won for the first time in the Matt Nagy era following an off week). But if the Bears handle what looks like a manageable early part of the schedule, they won’t need to go 3-1 or 4-0 in this meaty portion. Just treading water will do enough to tee up a really interesting final five games: vs. Detroit, vs. Houston, at Minnesota, at Jacksonville, vs. Green Bay. 

[MORE: Gov. Pritzker doubts fans will be in stands for Bears' home games]

Take care of bottom-feeding Detroit and Jacksonville and then beat one of Houston, Minnesota and Green Bay and you get 10 wins. With the playoffs expanding to seven teams per conference, that’ll be enough to get the Bears in the dance. 

I get projecting in May how difficult a November/December schedule will look can feel a little foolish. There’s a chance that four-game stretch I laid out comes early in the season, not in the middle of it, if games in September and into October have to delayed. And whether or not it does, it’s impossible to know who will be available for these games due to the usual roster attrition that happens during a season. 

But generally, we can pick out pivotal stretches of a season months in advance. All the Bears will need to do is tread water in this one — provided they’re buoyed enough going into it. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

2020 Chicago Bears schedule: A full 16-week look at the Bears' 2020 season

2020 Chicago Bears schedule: A full 16-week look at the Bears' 2020 season

Without further ado, the Chicago Bears' 2020 season

Week 1: at Detroit Lions, 12pm
Week 2: New York Giants, 12pm
Week 3: at Atlanta Falcons, 12pm
Week 4: Indianapolis Colts, 12pm
Week 5: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7:20pm (TNF)
Week 6: at Carolina Panthers, 12pm
Week 7: at Los Angeles Rams, 7:15pm (MNF)
Week 8: New Orleans Saints, 3:25pm
Week 9: at Tennessee Titans, 12pm
Week 10: Minnesota Vikings, 7:15 pm(MNF)
Week 11: BYE 
Week 12: at Green Bay Packers, 7:20pm (SNF)
Week 13: Detroit Lions, 12pm
Week 14: Houston Texans, 12pm
Week 15: at Minnesota Vikings, 12pm
Week 16: at Jacksonville Jaguars, 12pm
Week 17: Green Bay Packers, 12pm

Two road games in the first three weeks?! Nick Foles delivers sweet Christmas revenge to the Jaguars in Week 16?! Tompa Bay Thursday Night?! Here's some immediate reaction to everything we just learned about the Bears' 2020 schedule.