Bears Insider

Bears' NFC North schedule quirk could be double-edged sword for Caleb Williams, team

The Bears' divisional schedule quirk can be a blessing and curse depending on how the first 10 games go

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The most glaring aspect of the Bears' 2024 schedule, which was released Wednesday, comes in Week 11 in the form of the Green Bay Packers.

It is not noteworthy that the Packers visit Soldier Field in Week 11. But the fact that the Bears' first divisional game of the season is against the rival Packers on Nov. 17 is eye-opening.

The NFL has made a concerted effort to try and backload the schedule with as many divisional games as possible to increase the late-season stakes. But it's rare for a team not to play any divisional games before mid-November.

Six of the Bears' last eight games are against NFC North opponents. For comparison, the Packers, Lions, and Vikings each have two early-season divisional games and only four in the final eight.

Head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff will undoubtedly paint the finishing flurry against divisional opponents as a plus.

For a franchise whose mission statement is to "Take The North," their primary goal will remain in front of them even if they stumble out of the blocks with rookie quarterback Caleb Williams.

Having all six divisional games crammed into the final eight will give the Bears a clear path to the division title. Be healthy and peak at the right time, and you'll have a puncher's chance at the division and a playoff spot, even if you drop a game or two to lesser opponents early.

However, that "everything is in front of" gift could also place a heavy burden on a young team to be flawless down the stretch if they need to make up ground in the divisional race or the wild-card chase.

According to analytics guru Warren Sharp, the Bears have the easiest schedule in the first 10 games based on opponents' forecasted win totals.

Their final eight games include a trip to San Francisco, a Thursday night game against the Seahawks, and the six divisional games.

If the Bears can't make hay in the early portion of the schedule, playing catch-up against the Packers, Lions, and 49ers will be no easy task.

If the Vikings underperform expectations this fall, that could wind up being the saving grace of this stretch for the Bears. But if Kevin O'Connell and Brian Flores find a way to manufacture a playoff contender out of a Sam Darnold-J.J. McCarthy-led team, the Bears' closing slate will be that much more challenging.

Having the entire divisional slate backloaded will allow the Bears to stay hopeful deep into November as long as the wheels don't fall completely off early.

But it also underscores the importance of taking care of business during the winnable section of the schedule so that Williams and Co. have some margin for error in the final eight.

If they can't do that, it will put a lot of stress on an unproven roster to be near flawless in an eight-game stretch with no clear chance to take a breath.

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