NFL teams often get recognized by the national TV networks like players in pursuit of a Pro Bowl berth: a year late.
For example, when the Bears went 12-4 in 2018, Fox didn’t assign them a crew higher than fourth on its depth chart until Week 13, and it didn’t give them its top crew until Week 17.
With soaring expectations for the Bears entering last season, Fox gave them its top crew in Week 7, in addition to national broadcasts on Thanksgiving and the following Thursday night.
The Bears were embarrassed by the Saints in Week 7, and talk eventually turned to whether they would be flexed out of Sunday night games on NBC. Such is the roller-coaster world of the NFL.
As owner of the NFC package, Fox has 10 Bears games this season, including one Thursday night game that will be called by the No. 1 crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. CBS, which generally takes advantage of the Chicago market with a top-two crew, has three games, including a heretical NFC matchup.
How will the networks treat the Bears? Here are my annual predictions for which crews will call Bears games on Sunday afternoons. The first three were released. The rest are based on my own intuition, with some personal preference mixed in. (Sunday games are subject to flexing beginning in Week 5.)
Week 1: at Lions, noon, Fox
Kenny Albert will call the game with a new partner, former Jets and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, forming Fox’s No. 4 crew. Fox didn’t renew Ronde Barber’s contract.
Week 2: vs. Giants, noon, CBS
The network will send its No. 2 team of Ian Eagle and former Fox analyst Charles Davis. Eagle and Dan Fouts, whose contract wasn’t renewed, were a popular pair on the second team for the last six seasons. This game was cross-flexed from Fox to balance the broadcast schedule.
Week 3: at Falcons, noon, Fox
Albert and Vilma get their second Bears game in three weeks. Will this be a trend? With Albert on the call, it wouldn’t be a bad one.
Week 4: vs. Colts, noon, CBS
The Eye Network probably won’t give the Bears its usual treatment. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo likely will call Patriots-Chiefs at 3:25, and Eagle and Davis figure to get Tom Brady’s first game back on CBS at noon. Hopefully, that gives us the great Kevin Harlan and partner Trent Green.
Week 5: vs. Buccaneers, 7:20 p.m., Fox
Speaking of Brady, he only enhances Fox’s rights package, which benefits from better markets than CBS’ AFC package. This game combines Brady and the big city. Buck and Aikman have the call on “TNF.”
Week 6: at Panthers, noon, Fox
The network has a weak undercard at noon before the big Aaron Rodgers-Brady bout at 3:25. So let’s hear Bears preseason voice (except for this year) and new Bulls play-by-play man Adam Amin with partner Mark Schlereth, the network’s new No. 3 team.
Week 7: at Rams, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese.
Week 8: vs. Saints, 3:25 p.m., Fox
Buck and Aikman figure to be at 49ers-Seahawks. So it seems strange that a Saints offense-Bears defense matchup would be scheduled at the same time, limiting its audience. If Fox sends the No. 2 team of Kevin Burkhardt and Daryl Johnston to its best noon game, Vikings-Packers, Amin could have a true home game here.
Week 9: at Titans, noon, Fox
Bears fans (or any other fans, for that matter) won’t hear from Thom Brennaman this season. Fox removed him from its roster after he used a homophobic slur during a baseball broadcast. Kevin Kugler takes his spot alongside analyst Chris Spielman. It’s a good pairing, and as Fox’s No. 5 crew, it’s a good match for such a nondescript game.
Week 10: vs. Vikings, 7:15 p.m., ESPN
Levy, Riddick and Griese.
Week 11: Bye.
Week 12: at Packers, 7:20 p.m., NBC
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.
Week 13: vs. Lions, noon, Fox
By now, the Bears and Lions could be fighting to stay out of last place. But even if both teams are fighting for a playoff spot, they rarely draw a top crew together unless Thanksgiving requires it. Say hello to Kugler-Spielman again.
Week 14: vs. Texans, noon, CBS
I’ve always given the Bears a pass on passing on Patrick Mahomes. It’s avoiding Deshaun Watson that sticks with me. And if Mitch Trubisky is riding the pine, that storyline could help send Eagle-Davis back to town, assuming Nantz and Romo are at Chiefs-Dolphins.
Week 15: at Vikings, noon, Fox
Bears-Vikings might rate third behind Buccaneers-Falcons and Eagles-Cardinals. If Fox keeps Panthers-Packers away from NFL Network for Saturday, it could rate fourth. Sounds like we might catch up with Albert-Vilma.
Week 16: at Jaguars, noon, Fox
If things go badly this season, we could see a lot of Kugler-Spielman. But even if they don’t, this looks like the least attractive game of a loaded Fox lineup.
Week 17: vs. Packers, noon, Fox
Two years ago, the Bears clinched the division against the Packers at Soldier Field, and Fox gave us Chris Myers’ No. 5 team. Nothing against Myers, but fifth is fifth. And guess whom I haven’t picked for a Bears game yet this season: Myers with Greg Jennings and Brock Huard.
FOX BROADCAST TEAMS
(Play-by-play, analyst, reporter)
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (Kristina Pink on Thursdays)
Kevin Burkhardt, Daryl Johnston, Pam Oliver
Adam Amin, Mark Schlereth, Lindsay Czarniak
Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma, Shannon Spake
Kevin Kugler, Chris Spielman, Laura Okmin
Chris Myers, Greg Jennings, Brock Huard, Jennifer Hale
Other play-by-play announcers: Dick Stockton, Tim Brando, Joe Davis, Brandon Gaudin
Other analysts: Brady Quinn, Matt Millen, Robert Smith
Other reporters: Sara Walsh, Megan Olivi, Sarah Kustok
CBS BROADCAST TEAMS
Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Ian Eagle, Charles Davis, Evan Washburn
Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, Melanie Collins
Greg Gumbel, Rich Gannon
Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta
Tom McCarthy, Jay Feely
Beth Mowins, Tiki Barber