Bears’ 2023 schedule looks playable, but ...

Schedules can be misleading. The opener against Jordan Love and the Packers at Soldier Field will give coach Matt Eberflus’ Bears a chance to show it’s the dawn of a new era in the NFC North. Ultimately, the onus is on the Bears to improve and let NFL parity do the rest.

SHARE Bears’ 2023 schedule looks playable, but ...
The Bears will be facing Jordan Love (10) and the Packers in their 2023 season opener instead of Aaron Rodgers.

The Bears will be facing Jordan Love (10) and the Packers in their 2023 season opener instead of Aaron Rodgers.

Kayla Wolf/Getty Images

If this indeed is the dawn of a new era in the NFC North with Aaron Rodgers traded to the Jets, Bears fans might get an indication pretty quickly.

The Bears open the 2023 season against Jordan Love and the Packers on Sept. 10 at Soldier Field. After going 5-25 against Rodgers since 2008, the Bears will get an immediate opportunity to prove their rebuild under general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus has legs and take a big step toward exorcising a demon that has tormented the franchise and its fan base for three decades.

Most Bears resurgences in the Super Bowl era have coincided with a Packers downturn. And with Rodgers with the Jets and quarterback Justin Fields a legitimate — albeit unproven — igniter for the rebuild, the opener might be a harbinger of things to come.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented. In the 2006 opener in Lovie Smith’s second season, the Bears dominated the Packers 26-0 at Lambeau Field. It was a prelude to a glorious 13-3 season that ended in Super Bowl XLI.

In fact, the last three times the Bears have beaten the Packers in the season opener, they’ve made the playoffs. They also did it in 1979, when they beat the Packers 6-3 at Soldier Field and finished 10-6, and in 1963, when they won 10-3 at City Stadium in Green Bay en route to the NFL championship.

Even when the Bears lost the 2018 opener to the Packers 24-23 at Lambeau in Matt Nagy’s debut, their blazing start – a 17-point lead in the first half, fueled by newcomer Khalil Mack’s spectacular performance — was a sign of things to come. The Bears finished 12-4 and won the NFC North.

The release of the regular-season schedule is an event that quantifies the optimism of the NFL offseason, when almost every team envisions the best-case scenario and so many games seem winnable.

That effect resonated with Bears fans a little more when the schedule was announced Thursday.

A year ago, the Bears were in the beginning stages of a major rebuild under a first-time head coach, a first-time offensive coordinator and Fields learning a new offense. No matter how hard you looked at the schedule, it was hard to predict a winning season. Sure enough, it was worse than anticipated, as the Bears cleared the decks — trading linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive end Robert Quinn at midseason — and lost their final 10 games to finish 3-14.

But this season, with the Bears in the second year of Luke Getsy’s offense and Eberflus’ defense, with Fields coming off an encouraging 2022 season in which he rushed for 1,143 yards — including 178 against the Dolphins to set a single-game regular-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback — there’s more room for legitimate hope and more room for disappointment.

It’s a playable schedule — famous last words in May — that gives the Bears a chance to exceed expectations of a 7-10 or 8-9 season if they make the most of roster upgrades/additions, such as receiver DJ Moore, rookie right tackle Darnell Wright, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards and rookie defensive tackles Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens.

Of their 17 games, the Bears have only five against teams that made the playoffs last season (the Vikings twice, the Chiefs, the Chargers and the 8-9 Buccaneers). They play six games against teams that had winning records last season (the 13-4 Vikings twice, the 9-8 Lions twice, the 14-3 Chiefs and the 10-7 Chargers).

As of now, they figure to face nine quarterbacks who will be in their first full year in their offense, including Love, the Buccaneers’ Baker Mayfield, the Commanders’ Sam Howell, the Saints’ Derek Carr, the Panthers’ Bryce Young (or Andy Dalton), the Browns’ Deshaun Watson and the Falcons’ Desmond Ridder.

A caution, though, before you predict the Bears’ 2023 schedule game-by-game: Things change. Last year, the Bears’ strength-of-schedule was tied for the eighth-easiest when the schedule was released in May, based on their opponents’ 2021 records (135-152-2, .471). As it turned out, it was the strongest in the NFL (163-122-3, .571) because the Vikings, Lions, Giants and Eagles all made big improvements. (Even without their games against the Bears, the Bears’ opponents were 143-119-3 against the rest of the NFL in 2022.)

It works the other way, too. Last year, the 49ers had the fifth-toughest schedule, based on their opponents’ 2021 records (154-135, .533). But they ended up with the easiest schedule (120-168-1, .417) and went 13-4, despite starting three quarterbacks. The 49ers were 6-0 against the Rams, Cardinals, Buccaneers and Raiders, who were a combined 69-33 in 2021 but ended up 32-70 in 2022. Never underestimate the mediocrity — or the volatility — of the NFL. The trick is becoming the beneficiary and not the victim.

So regardless of how ‘‘playable’’ the schedule looks in May, the onus is on the Bears to get better and let NFL parity do the rest. It’s the way of the NFL: As long as you improve, you can be sure somebody else is getting worse.

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