Bears schedule 2022: Hinge games, five-week stretch will define season

The NFL’s only rewards for losing campaigns are a high draft pick and a potentially easier schedule the following season.

The Bears didn’t reap the benefits of a top-10 selection after going 6-11 last season, having traded their first-round pick to the New York Giants in the Justin Fields deal.

However, the Bears will find their 2022 slate much more manageable than their 2021 schedule. Chicago has the ninth-easiest schedule based on opponents winning percentage from last season.

The Bears have seemingly winnable games against the Houston Texans, Giants, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, and two against the Detroit Lions.

Six potential wins, a few coin flips, and several probable losses make up the Bears’ 2022 path.

Not much is expected of a team in Year 1 of an extensive rebuild. Success for the 2022 Bears likely will be determined by something other than wins and losses.

But a critical five-game stretch in the middle of the season could determine the direction the Bears go in Year 1 of the Matt Eberflus-Ryan Poles era.

From Week 5 to Week 9, the Bears face five teams with legitimate playoff aspirations. However, three of the team are legitimate wild cards.

Week 5: at Minnesota Vikings

Week 6 vs. Washington Commanders (TNF)

Week 7: at New England Patriots (MNF)

Week 8: at Dallas Cowboys

Week 9 vs. Miami Dolphins

The Bears should expect to enter this stretch at 2-2 and could be 3-1 if they can pull off an upset in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers.

They’ll face back-to-back hinge games against a talented Vikings team with a new head coach and a Commanders team with a quarterback addicted to making puzzling decisions with the football over in Carson Wentz.

Both the Vikings and Commanders have the potential to be playoff teams. But it’s also not hard to see both finishing the season at 8-9 and missing the playoffs.

With road games in New England and Dallas on deck, it’s essential that the Bears at least split the games against the Vikings and Commanders.

Back-to-back road games against the Patriots and Cowboys likely result in two losses. Bill Belichick owns young quarterbacks, and the Bears don’t have the defensive firepower needed to slow down the Cowboys’ offense.

The stretch finishes against the true mystery team of 2022 – the Miami Dolphins.

Miami has a ton of speed after adding Tyreek Hill in the offseason. The Dolphins also spent big money on star offensive tackle Terron Armstead. The defense remains stout, with Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland leading a talented secondary.

But everything for the Dolphins hinges on Tua Tagovailoa and how he looks in Mike McDaniel’s offense. If Tagovailoa excels, the Dolphins could enter Soldier Field as one of the AFC’s best. If he struggles, Teddy Bridgewater could be operating the offense, and the Bears might be able to pick them off.

Can the Bears find two wins in this five-game stretch? Or is it a month-long descent into the abyss, one they’ll exit at 2-7? While the Bears’ win-loss record won’t define their season, it’s hard to sell any positivity out of a 2-15 or 3-14 season.

The Bears need to win the winnable games against other expected bottom-tier teams and then grab a few hinge games to eliminate the possibility of morale-killing losing streaks.

After the game against the Dolphins, the Bears face the Lions, Falcons, and Jets. Those games might be less winnable if the season is already in shambles after a 1-4 or 0-5 stretch. But if the Bears can enter Week 10 at 4-5, then the second half of the season will be an opportunity for Eberflus to lay a strong foundation for his rebuild. Having the Bears near .500 at Week 10 will keep the focus on the 2022 season and the idea of ​​incremental progress, not the draft and the 2023 season.

Rebuilds take time and patience. But they also require moments of progress, benchmarks to point to that show the team is improving and provide hope for the future.

It will be much harder for the Bears to achieve that if they exit Week 9 at 2-7 or worse, following five straight losses.

The success of Eberflus’ first season very well could hinge on how the Bears survive those five weeks.

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