Bears Insider

Bears' 2024 NFL schedule release will answer two key questions, give Caleb Williams clear path

Caleb Williams and the 2024 Bears' path to meet expectations will be revealed next week

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The 2024 NFL schedule will be released next week, and when the schedule drops, it will give the Bears and rookie quarterback Caleb Williams a clear picture of their path to the playoffs in a season filled with high expectations.

We already know the Bears' opponents.

Chicago will visit the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, and Washington Commanders, plus their yearly trips to Green Bay, Detroit, and Minnesota. The Bears will host the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and their three NFC North rivals. The Bears will play one of their home games in London, which is expected to be played against the Jaguars in the middle of October.

There are several reasons the Bears will enter the 2024 season with playoff expectations, and the schedule is near the top of the list, just under the improvement at quarterback, offensive coordinator, and skill groups.

The Bears will face C.J. Stroud, Brock Purdy, Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, and Trevor Lawrence. They'll also see Jordan Love and Jared Goff twice each. But they will also get rookie quarterback Jayden Daniels, second-year signal-callers Will Levis, Bryce Young, and Anthony Richardson, as well as the winner of expected quarterback battles in New England (Drake Maye/Jacoby Brissett) and Minnesota (Sam Darnold/J.J. McCarthy).

Based on 2023 team records, the Bears are projected to have the third-easiest strength of schedule with a 2023 opponent win percentage of .467.

However, that doesn't take into account the moves and improvements made in the offseason.

NFL analytics guru Warren Sharp has his own model that predicts the strength of schedule based on each opponent's predicted 2024 record. In Sharp's metric, the Bears own the third-easiest schedule behind only the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers.

We know the Bears' are projected to have an easy road in 2024. That's the prize for coming in last in your division the year prior.

The expected light schedule, coupled with the arrival of Williams, the hire of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, and the additions of Keenan Allen, Rome Odunze, and D'Andre Swift, should make 10 wins and a playoff berth the target goal for this fall.

But the cadence of the schedule will matter, and it will further inform and perhaps alter our expectations for Williams and the Bears in 2024.

A gauntlet stretch, extended time on the road, and an untimely bye week can all drastically alter a team's playoff chances.

Yes, the Bears have an easy schedule on paper. But they started slow last year (1-4 after five games). What if a slow start this season melds into a four-game stretch against the 49ers, Jaguars, Packers, and Lions? It could be curtains early.

Of course, a hot start could also bleed into games against the Jags, Commanders, Patriots, and Panthers, and then the Bears could be this year's surprise team that is 6-2 after eight games.

The order is critical.

It will also give us a nice map of what to expect from Williams as he begins his highly-anticipated rookie season.

Will he have a soft launch with early games against rebuilding defenses in Seattle and Washington? Or will he be tested out of the gate, perhaps with an opener against the Lions and early games against the 49ers and Packers?

The Bears' lack of elite defensive opponents -- only San Francisco and Carolina ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense last season -- should help give us an idea of how Williams' season might ebb and flow.

Williams could shoot out of the gate and render the opponents and their order irrelevant, but the schedule's rhythm can at least serve as an early tool to set expectations for the No. 1 overall pick and the fast-improving Bears.

The Bears should be playoff contenders in 2024. Williams will have his rookie moments, but the Bears have the talent on both sides of the ball to weather those bumps and be a factor come December and January.

General manager Ryan Poles' offseason work concluded with a franchise-altering draft that landed Williams and Odunze in Round 1.

The initial expectations are set. The bar has been raised.

All that's left is to know the precise path Wiliams and the Bears must travel to clear it.

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