Top Ten Chicago Bears Games to Watch this 2013 NFL Season
There are a lot of sayings that go around NFL locker rooms about what it takes to reach the playoffs. Among the most popular is believing if one wins at least ten games they have a great shot to get in. Sadly this wasn't the case last year with the Chicago Bears who went 10-6 but missed the playoffs because of a poor division record and a late season slide. Still that doesn't mean going after ten wins again is the wrong thing to do. So which ten games should football fans keep an eye on that could shape how the Bears season plays out?
Week 1 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Getting off to a great start is everything in sports. It can set the tone for the entire season and instantly get teams in a rhythm. This will be the first game for Marc Trestman, who waited a long time to become a head coach in the National Football League. Fans are anxious to see what his historical success of building offenses will bring for quarterback Jay Cutler. Cincinnati is an excellent first test. Their head coach Marvin Lewis has never lost to Chicago and boasts a playoff roster led by Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Geno Atkins. Promising rookie draft picks Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard figure to play big roles in the this game as well. If the Bears defense under new coordinator Mel Tucker struggles early it might become a problem.
Week 2 vs. Minnesota Vikings
The importance of this game is enhanced by the outcome of the previous one. If the Bears were to lose opening day at home, they can't afford to drop two-in-a-row at Soldier Field. The fact that it is the Vikings and Adrian Peterson coming to town only makes it more crucial. It was Minnesota who ultimately killed the Bears playoff hopes late last season and since then they've improved their roster with young studs like Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson. Historically Chicago has owned the Vikings at Soldier, having not lost to them in that stadium since 2007. They must make sure to keep that streak intact if they don't want to fall in a hole before their first road trip.
Week 3 at Pittsburgh Steelers
Like the Vikings at Soldier, the Bears seem to struggle whenever they play in Pittsburgh. In fact they haven't won there since 1989. The AFC power figures to have improved from their disappointing season a year ago. Though they lost receiver Mike Wallace, Ben Roethlisberger is always dangerous. The selection of speedster Markus Wheaton in the draft, along with tight end Jordan Reed will add to an already formidable Steelers attack. Their defense is also getting younger with standout linebacker Jarvis Jones and has a terrific coordinator in Dick LeBeau. Chicago must keep the game close if they want to pull off a big road win.
Week 6 vs. New York Giants
One thing teams must do to make the playoffs besides win their divisional games is beat teams they are likely to fight for playoff spots late in the year. New York is definitely one of those teams. With Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin running the show, the G-Men are a formidable opponent especially after the first few games of the season. By this point they have made their adjustments and typically go on win streaks. This game will be a real testing ground for the Bears new offensive line who will face Jason Pierre-Paul for the first time, not to mention Justin Tuck and promising draft picks Jonathan Hankins and Damontre Moore. Meanwhile it is up to corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings to help control a strong Giants receiving group led by Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. One side note: three of the last four times Chicago has beaten New York they had a winning record for the season.
Week 7 at Washington Redskins
Another team that the Bears have struggled against in recent years. This is their first real test against quarterback Robert Griffin III who should be fully healed from his ACL injury. The Bears defense must keep him from scrambling too much while trying to control Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris. The last time these two teams played, corner DeAngelo Hall intercepted Cutler four times. Jay must have a better day against the Redskins defense to pull off a win. This figures to be another team Chicago will fight for a playoff spot.
Week 9 at Green Bay Packers
No game will offer a better barometer for where the Bears offense is than this showdown at Lambeau Field. Green Bay has smothered Cutler ever since he came to Chicago in 2009. He's thrown 8 touchdowns to 17 interceptions in that span while getting sacked 30 times. Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews will work to make that trend continue. The real key to this game is Trestman. His job is to keep Jay and the offense under control and not thinking too much. The environment will be hostile and the Packers defense physical and aggressive. The Bears must execute their offense and stay focused if they want any chance of winning this game. If they do though, it will send a very loud message across the NFC North.
Week 11 vs. Baltimore Ravens
The best way to find out how good a team really is often comes from measuring how they play against the defending champions. Chicago will get that opportunity. Joe Flacco and the Ravens are in a transition period, losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Still, they have plenty of firepower on offense and defense. GM Ozzie Newsome also put together another solid draft in plucking players like Matt Elam and Arthur Brown. The one thing the Bears can't do is let the Ravens control the line of scrimmage. It's what they did in the playoffs last season with Haloti Ngata on defense and Marshal Yanda on offense. How players like Henry Melton and Kyle Long respond to those challenges are key.
Week 14 vs. Dallas Cowboys
Chicago basically will battle most of the NFC East division for playoff spots in 2013. Dallas is no exception. Tony Romo, for all his faults, is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback whose team figures to have improved from a disappointing 8-8 finish last year. What makes this game so important, besides the obvious, is its the only home game the Bears will have in a five week stretch. Failing to win it would mean they would have to at least win two out of four of those road games to have any hope of staying alive. Luckily Chicago beat the Cowboys last season in Dallas, so getting them at Soldier Field should bring an additional boost of confidence.
Week 16 at Philadelphia Eagles
Make no mistake. Andy Reid is gone but the talent level in Philadelphia hasn't slipped. Between free agency and the NFL draft, new head coach Chip Kelly will have a formidable roster to mold around his innovative offense that drove teams crazy in college. Michael Vick returns healthy as will most of his offensive linemen, not to mention highly-touted first round pick Lane Johnson. Add in tight end Zach Ertz and a rebuilt defense with Connor Barwin, Patrick Chung and Isaac Sopoaga and Philadelphia is good enough to compete with any team. The Bears defense must learn to play at a fast pace while Cutler and the offense must handle the hostile Philly fans. Neither is an easy task.
Week 17 vs. Green Bay Packers
The trend is no fluke. The easiest way for Chicago to lose its chance at a playoff berth is getting swept by the Packers for the third year in a row. Rodgers hasn't lost in Chicago since 2010. There is no doubt this game will mean something to one of these teams, if not both. The excuses by this point are gone. Cutler should understand the offense by then and Trestman has to be over any early first-year coaching jitters. One reason Lovie Smith lasted so long in Chicago was because he built a great reputation against Green Bay. Getting on the fast track to adoration in the Windy City means that Trestman do the same. If he does it here to clinch a playoff spot that love will skyrocket to untold heights.