By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The 2019 NFL Draft can be seen as the main course of the current off season, but Wednesday saw an appetizer that was almost as fulfilling — the release of the upcoming season’s schedules league-wide.
It has been a memorable offseason with a numerous big name stars changing locations. But trades and free agency are only great supplements to a championship team. Ultimately, the predictor of future success is in a team’s ability to correctly identify talented productive players in the NFL Draft.
This draft has plenty of rich storylines and arguably the key to the whole draft is what happens at pick number one. Yesterday was the highlight of the entire week when it came to NFL news as the entire 2019 season schedule was released. In what was an exciting year last season, expect even more parody and excitement with some teams jumping all the way from the bottom to the top.
The beauty of the NFL is the true hope fans have that their team can go from worst to first in a single off season. Once the release of the schedule came out for the Bears, fans got a taste of what a division winning schedule looks like compared to a last place schedule.
Anticipation was already high for the Bears upcoming season and seeing their road is making it feel that much more real.
Road to El Dorado
During head coach John Fox’s era, the Bears benefited from a last place schedule every year but never took advantage of the poorer competition.
Head coach Matt Nagy did take advantage of the last place schedule and won the division last season. Nagy now has to do the hard part, being able to win with expectations against tougher competition.
All in all, the Bears schedule seems to be a decent one for the Bears with all things considered. The bye week is in Week 6 and the team is scheduled to play on national TV six times.
Listen to Ryan and Kyle Means break down the Bears schedule (Anchor.fm)
Primetime starts when the Bears open the season against the Packers at Soldier Field on Sept. 5. Over the following four games before the bye, the Bears have four winnable games at the Broncos, at Washington on Monday Night Football, home against the Vikings and technically a home game versus the Raiders but the game will be played in London.
Perhaps the toughest stretch follows immediately after the bye week. From Weeks 7-9 the Bears host the Saints, host the Chargers and play on the road against the Eagles. On paper, it looks like it would be in the best interest of the team to get off to a good start. After the Eagles game, the Bears will begin to play a heavy NFC and NFC North slate.
Starting in Week 10, the Bears host the Lions, go to the Rams for their third prime time game, host the Giants and once again play the Lions on Thanksgiving to close out the month of November. December doesn’t get much easier starting by first hosting the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football, going to the Packers, their final home game versus the Chiefs in prime time and close out the season like last year playing the Vikings. Injuries and player development or regression will be the variables that determine how good some of these games can be.
A potentially great and season-defining game is the final home game against the Chiefs where quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will take on the quarterback selected after him in the same draft, superstar Patrick Mahomes. But the key to the season will be how well the Bears plays against its division and conference.
Last year, the Bears had the most conference wins in the NFC with 10 and went 5-1 against the division. If the Bears can repeat something similar to that success then they will be back in the playoffs.
One other primary story this week for the Bears was the retirement of tight end Zach Miller. A four year player with the Bears and three seasons with the Jaguars, Miller was a talented but often injured player. Had he found a way to be more of a durable player, his career may have blossomed into something pretty good. Maybe never quite capable of being a star but a good receiving threat that helped make quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Mitchell Trubisky better.
Where Miller may have helped the most was his work off the field. Miller was heavily involved in the community and won the Ed Block Courage Award for his work with neglected and at risk children. Miller may stay with the Bears in some capacity and hopefully the team will bring him back since his presence would be missed.
Around the League
NFL fans rejoiced over the release of the schedule with Bears fans alike. A ton of games jump off the screen and hopefully all, or at least a high majority, will live up to the hype.
One game particularly that should catch attention is the Browns hosting the Rams on Sunday Night Football. It will be the first time Sunday Night Football has been in Cleveland since 2008! Think about that, the Cleveland Browns will have multiple primetime games. What could be a better indicator for a wild NFL season if potentially the worst franchise in the league is a team to watch?
A strong list of popular teams are slated to have the most games take place under primetime lights. The Bears, Cowboys, Chiefs, Steelers, Rams, Eagles, Vikings, Seahawks and Packers all earned five primetime nods. Of course trying to predict the NFL is no easy task and all fans should keep in mind its a long season.
Lying season is in full effect across the league with draft rumors flying all over the place. Once the clock starts for the Cardinals, all eyes will be on quarterback Kyler Murray. Rumors have been all over the place with Murray being selected high in the draft by the Cardinals or another team. Sparking rumors more recently was Murray cancelling a visit to Washington.
Washington has the 15th pick in the first round and the news would indicate that Murray believes he won’t be on the board by the time Washington selects. Where Murray goes or doesn’t go in the draft could have huge influence on how the first round goes.
Normally the first pick doesn’t have so much boom or bust potential but the draft hasn’t normally seen a quarterback like Murray.
One final NFL news note was the signing of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to the Patriots. Thomas is coming off an Achilles tear and is an intriguing receiving option for the Patriots.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski retired this off season and his production will have to be replaced as well as the value he brought as a big receiving target.
This signing by the Patriots helps in both those areas. Maybe this signing won’t really matter in the totality of the season but fans should always be paying attention to what the Patriots are doing.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR