Bears 2014 schedule: Moon's initial thoughts

Bears 2014 schedule: Moon's initial thoughts
April 23, 2014, 7:00 pm
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Coach Marc Trestman said going into last season, with his Bears opening at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, a 2012 wild-card team, that he liked taking on difficult opponents early. Going to San Francisco to deal with the 49ers in week two certainly fits that.

The Bears will face the NFC runners-up (and three straight part of the NFC Championship game) in the first regular-season game being played in the latter’s new stadium in Santa Rosa.

The NFL will permit flex-scheduling beginning with week five but for now the Bears are considered ready-for-prime-time players: five night games, including Monday Night Football games at the New York Jets (Sept. 22) and at home against the New Orleans Saints (Dec. 15).

The Bears face NFC North opponents in five of the final eight games of the season beginning Nov. 9, after the off-week, at Green Bay. The schedule also has four Detroit and Minnesota games over the final seven games. The Bears will have Detroit in Chicago on Dec. 21; they also play the Lions in Ford Field for Thanksgiving, a game date on which they last won in 1993.

The season winds up in Minnesota, with the game slated for TCF Bank Stadium while the Vikings’ new stadium is being built. There’s basically no easy way to finish off with either the Packers or the Vikings simply because neither team has an indoor venue. The Vikings will be Soldier Field on Nov. 16.

This also marks the third straight season in which the Bears will open at home against an AFC team, posting wins over Indianapolis and Cincinnati the past two seasons.

Also, be sure to check out the View from the Moon: Why this year's Bears team will win more than 10 games.

Week 1

Sun., Sept. 7: Bears vs. Buffalo Bills -- Noon (FOX)

The Bills (6-10 in 2013) have not been to the playoffs yet this century (last time: 1999). Nine straight losing seasons, most of them ending with the Bills looking up at New England, Miami and the Jets make the Bills the kind of AFC opponent you want coming into your home venue. The passing of legendary AFL pioneer Ralph Wilson was an emotional loss for a team that has seen its tradition slip to demoralizing levels.

Losing Pro Bowl Jairus Byrd to the Saints left a hole in the defense and the percolating uncertainty about where the team will spend its future, and under what ownership, do nothing for an organization desperately in need of focus.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 2

Sun., Sept. 14: Bears at San Francisco 49ers -- 7:30 (NBC)

The Bears won’t mind not seeing any more of Candlestick Park, where they last won in 1985. Not that newly opened Levi’s Stadium will be any more fun for the Bears; Jim Harbaugh has had the Niners (12-4 in 2013) in nothing short of the NFC Championship game in his three years as head coach and has yet to lose more than four games in a season in San Francisco.

The problem is simple: The Bears have scored just one touchdown in the last eight road quarters vs. San Francisco and that was under Jason Campbell in the 2012 blowout. The mixture of speed, power and scheme has flummoxed the Bears, and most of the NFL for that matter. The 49ers were top-10 in virtually every significant defensive category last season, including third in points allowed.

What fallout or scar tissue is left from the Aldon Smith bomb-threat incident will be closely watched throughout arguably the NFL’s toughest division. Smith terrorized the Bears the last time they met, albeit with Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb at the edges of the Bears’ offensive line.

Moon predicts: Loss

Week 3

Monday., Sept. 22: Bears at New York Jets -- 7:30 (ESPN)

The Bears have beaten the Jets in their last three quadrennial get-togethers and in venues that included Soldier Field, the Meadowlands and Champaign. They have shed themselves of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow but still don’t have a franchise quarterback in place with Geno Smith. They cut their losses on the huge contract for wide receiver Santonio Holmes but that’s not the same thing as solving a problem for whoever their quarterback is. Smith survived a rookie season with 12 touchdown passes vs. 21 interceptions, but a competition between Smith and offseason-signee Michael Vick does not a championship foreshadow.

The Jets significantly upgraded their secondary with offseason signings and already were among the NFL’s best against the run. And adding running back Chris Johnson will be a man on a mission after his exit from Tennessee, out to prove any knee-injury suspicions are exaggerated.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 4

Sun., Sept. 28: Bears vs. Green Bay Packers -- Noon (FOX)

Green Bay lost two and tied one division game last season, matching the combined total of NFC North non-wins of their previous three seasons. Aaron Rodgers’ fractured collarbone suffered against the Bears just might have had something to do with that as the Packers went winless in the five games Rodgers missed all or part of. But they still went through Chicago in Week 17, and as long as Rodgers is vertical that is standing concern for the Bears.

If it seems there is an “elephant” in the room (or the defense), that’s because there actually is, in the form of Julius Peppers. He was signed after his release by the Bears, and coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have that hybrid role in mind for what should be a re-energized Peppers.

If the changes in personnel and attitude do for the No. 25 yardage defense (T-24 in points allowed), the Packers belong in every playoff discussion, particularly with an offense that ranked top-10 in most significant categories even without Rodgers for about a third of the season.

Moon predicts: Win (in Chicago)

Week 5

Sun., Oct. 5: Bears at Carolina Panthers -- Noon (FOX)

Ron Rivera made the Panthers (12-4 in 2013) one of the top NFL stories of 2013, recovering from a 1-3 start to go 11-1 to win the NFC South. Only four of Carolina’s final 12 opponents scored more than 16 points, and the three who scored 20 all lost. Only the Saints playing in New Orleans managed to top the Panthers before the playoff loss at San Francisco.

Cam Newton had ankle surgery in late March and will be several months recovering, and when he does return, he won’t have veteran tackle Jordan Gross, who retired, protecting one of his flanks, or Steve Smith to catch his passes. The Panthers were 7-1 at home last season after three straight years of losing records in their own house.

Moon predicts: Loss

Week 6

Sun., Oct. 12: Bears at Atlanta Falcons -- Noon (FOX)

The bottom fell out for Matt Ryan in 2013 as the Falcons went from five straight winning seasons, four good enough for the playoffs under Matt Ryan, to 4-12, which they were in 2007 to earn the No. 3 pick they used for Ryan. This year their 4-12 earns the No. 6 pick with a general consensus that the Falcons will mimic the Bears and focus on defense, where Atlanta was 27th in yardage and points allowed. The only team worse against the run in 2013 was the Bears.

The Falcons started their recovery by hiring Scott Pioli as assistant general manager in January, and went with a few Bears connections through the offseason: Bryan Cox as defensive line coach, tackle Gabe Carimi and return legend Devin Hester, who doubtless would like nothing better than to achieve touchdown return No. 20 against his former team.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 7

Sun., Oct. 19: Bears vs. Miami Dolphins -- Noon (CBS)

No team had more internal turmoil than the Dolphins (8-8 in 2013) with their Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin imbroglio. That may be gone but the leadership issues aren’t necessarily, with a new general manager, an offensive line in a shambles and a team that defines middle-of-the-pack, maybe even a little below that, on both offense and defense.

Like so many teams, the Dolphins need a young, No. 1 pick quarterback to take a significant step. Ryan Tannehill improved to throw more touchdowns (24) than interceptions (17) in his second season, but flopped in finishing with two clunkers with the playoffs there to be made. They also had a top-5 pick in Dion Jordan last year, who struggled and played just 20 snaps per game.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 8

Sun., Oct. 26: Bears at New England Patriots -- Noon (FOX)

The Tom Brady Express fell short against Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship game, but the Patriots (12-4 in 2013) were 8-0 at home last year, and no NFC team as beaten them in Foxboro in the past two seasons.

The Patriots remain in the same win-now mindset they have been for more than a decade, and adding cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner plus receiver Brandon LaFell served to underscore that mission statement.

The Bears have beaten the Patriots just once (2000) in the seven meetings since Super Bowl XX. Breaking that drumbeat in New England is a supreme longshot: The Bears have never beaten the Patriots in New England dating back to their first meeting in 1973.

Moon predicts: Loss

Week 9

Bye week

Week 10

Sun., Nov. 9: Bears at Green Bay Packers -- 7:30 (NBC)

See Week 4 for analysis.

Moon predicts: Loss (in Green Bay)

Week 11

Sun., Nov. 16: Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings -- Noon (FOX)

The Vikings (5-10-1 in 2013) went from doormat to playoff team and back to doormat in just two seasons, which means they get high draft choices but, in this case, don’t have a quarterback. They do have a new head coach, Cincinnati’s former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in place of Leslie Frazier, and the early offseason and money was spent on defense, including Corey Wootton and ex-Giant Linval Joseph for the defensive line and Captain Munnerlyn at cornerback. The Vikings were the most scored-upon team in the NFL last year and were as bad against the pass as the Bears were against the run.

The quarterback issue starts in the hands of Matt Cassel, re-signed to a two-year deal worth $10 million, with the plan that “new” coordinator Norv Turner can turn Cassel into an upgrade over the one that did manage to start as the Vikings won three of their last six in 2013.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 12

Sun., Nov. 23: Bears vs. Tampa Bay Bucaneers -- Noon (FOX)

The return of Lovie Smith, quarterback Josh McCown and safety Major Wright to Soldier Field will be among the most anticipated Bears home games of 2014. It may also be one of the more surprisingly difficult, with McCown possessed of a record of minimal turnovers and Smith working with a defense that had talent but no compass under ousted coach Greg Schiano.

Smith’s challenge is a big one, however. The Bucs have finished last in the NFC South in four of the past five years, which amounts to a losing culture, not always an easy element to change with one year, one draft and one offseason of importing talent.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 13

Thurs., Nov. 27: Bears at Detroit Lions -- 11:30 a.m. (FOX)

The NFL won’t have Jim Schwartz to kick around anymore and whether the Lions (7-9 in 2013) are headed for better than their one winning season in five under Schwartz is a turnaround now in the hands of Jim Caldwell, in his first head-coaching post after years mentoring offenses, in particular quarterbacks. What Detroit does will turn on what Caldwell does with Matthew Stafford.

The Lions didn’t pick up a fifth-year option for defensive tackle Nick Fairley, an under-achieving talent on a team defined by that phrase. The result will probably a motivated former first-rounder but that won’t solve every issue on a defensive line that was 28th in sacks per pass play.

The buzz has been whether the Lions would move up from No. 10 in the draft and possibly grab Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The bigger question is how Caldwell changes the culture through a team that needed it as much as any that made offseason coaching changes.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 14

Thurs., Dec. 4: Bears vs. Dallas Cowboys -- 7:30 (NFLN)

This marks the fourth time the Bears will face the Cowboys (8-8 in 2013) since the arrival of Jay Cutler in Chicago, and the Bears have dominated the first three, even when Cutler wasn’t playing. In those three, the Bears averaged 35.3 points per game, topped by 45 behind Josh McCown last season, and a winning margin of 13.3 points.

Picking up ex-Bear Henry Melton and Jeremy Mincey project to upgrade the Dallas defensive line under Rod Marinelli. But the Cowboys let edge rush threat DeMarcus Ware walk and lost defensive tackle Jason Hatcher to free agency.

The over-arching reality, however, is that the over-hyped Cowboys are coming off three straight 8-8 seasons after one at 6-10. They remain a constant threat with Tony Romo, but whether it’s a threat to opponents or themselves is an annual question.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 15

Mon., Dec. 15: Bears vs. New Orleans Saints -- 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

With Bountygate behind them, the Saints (11-5 in 2013) rallied to grab a Wild Card win at Philadelphia and lose in the divisional round when Seattle ran for 174 yards on them. The Bears were one of the Saints’ conquests, with Alshon Jeffery piling up 218 receiving yards and Jay Cutler out playing Drew Brees in a 26-18 losing effort.

The unknown with the Saints, who haven’t won fewer than seven games in a season since 2005, is turnover. It is a team making itself over, letting go of multiple veterans over the past couple seasons in a division with Carolina and Tampa Bay on the rise.

The Bears have brought in former Saints O-line coach Aaron Kromer and most recently center Brian de la Puente this offseason. The Saints also traded running back Darren Sproles to the Eagles. They have been one of the NFL’s most active this offseason, including losing three offensive starters and adding help in the secondary.

Moon predicts: Win

Week 16

Sun., Dec. 21: Bears vs. Lions -- Noon (FOX)

See Week 13 for analysis.

Moon predicts: Loss

Week 17

Sun., Dec. 28: Bears at Minnesota Vikings -- Noon (FOX)

See Week 11 for analysis.

Moon predicts: Win

 

Moon's 2014 Bears prediction: 11-5

 

BEARS' COMPLETE 2014 SCHEDULE

WEEK DATE OPPONENT TIME (TV)
1. Sun., Sept. 7 vs. Buffalo Bills Noon (FOX)
2. Sun., Sept. 14 at San Francisco 49ers 7:30 (NBC)
3. Mon., Sept. 22 at New York Jets 7:30 (ESPN)
4. Sun., Sept. 28 vs. Green Bay Packers Noon (FOX)
5. Sun., Oct. 5 at Carolina Panthers Noon (FOX)
6. Sun., Oct. 12 at Atlanta Falcons Noon (FOX)
7. Sun., Oct. 19 vs. Miami Dolphins Noon (CBS)
8. Sun., Oct. 26 at New England Patriots Noon (FOX)
9.   BYE WEEK  
10. Sun., Nov. 9 at Green Bay Packers 7:30 (NBC)
11. Sun., Nov. 16 vs. Minnesota Vikings Noon (FOX)
12. Sun., Nov. 23 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Noon (FOX)
13. Thurs., Nov. 27 at Detroit Lions 11:30 (CBS)
14. Thurs., Dec. 4 vs. Dallas Cowboys 7:25 (NFLN)
15. Mon., Dec. 15 vs. New Orleans Saints 7:30 (ESPN)
16. Sun., Dec. 21 vs. Detroit Lions Noon (FOX)
17. Sun., Dec. 28 at Minnesota Vikings Noon (FOX)