Five prime time games. A Thanksgiving trip to Detroit for the first time in a decade. But in order to set themselves up to have greater control of their destiny in the second half, when they play five of their six division games and are home for five of their final seven, the Bears will have to ready out of the gate in their tidy whities. Uniform jersey tops, that is.
A season-opening victory against a Buffalo team you'd think, on paper, they'd be able to beat is even more imperative when you consider four of their next five are on the road. Three in that stretch are against 2013 playoff teams (at San Francisco, home to Green Bay, and at Carolina), another against a team that was in the mix in late December (at New York Jets), and the other versus a team a year removed from the NFC Championship game (at Atlanta).
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The first half closes at the exact midway point (week 9, same for the Packers and Lions; with the Vikings off a week later). But their final game before that two-week respite is at New England. And when they get back to work, both the Bears and Packers will have had two weeks to prepare for their second, surprisingly early, meeting at Lambeau Field November 9th. They'd best put the bye week to use, because that game versus the arch-rival begins a stretch of four games in 18 days, and they'll be as important as they will probably be emotional: consecutive Sundays against the Vikings and Lovie Smith's Buccaneers on the lakefront, followed by the Turkey Day bash at Ford Field.
The Vikings game on the 16th, however, also marks the start of a home stretch in which five of their final seven are at home, so if the Bears can negotiate the road-heavy first half with a winning mark, they'll greet warm weather/domed teams to Soldier Field in December: Dallas, New Orleans, and the rematch with Detroit. There would be no real surprise if their return trip to Minneapolis' great outdoors December 28th has the kind of meaning to the Bears' January hopes as last year's eventual heartbreaking finale did.
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While the Bears play five of their final eight within the NFC North, Green Bay plays just one division rival the final five weeks: their finale at home against Detroit (after visiting the Lions and Bears, and hosting the Vikings in weeks 3 through 5). Detroit closes against three straight (and four of the last five) division foes: hosting the Vikings, before traveling to Soldier Field and Lambeau. Before hosting the Bears in Week 17, the Vikings are at Detroit and at Miami.