Breakdown: The first thing I noticed was the imbalance of home games. Last season there was heightened discussion of the Solider Field grass, and the Bears' steadfast refusal to convert to artificial turf. I'm sure it's only a coincidence that the Bears would play three of their first four games, and four of their first six, at home -- when the turf is conceivably in the best condition of the year.
As a result, the Bears would play three of their final four games on the road and would have only two games at Soldier Field after Nov. 20. If the Bears have designs on repeating as NFC North champions, they better hope they have a bit of a cushion entering Week 16. Otherwise, they'll need to win back-to-back games against division rivals -- first the Green Bay Packers and then the Minnesota Vikings to close out the season.
But make no mistake: The NFL views the Bears as an interesting, if not elite, team in 2011. They'll play twice on Sunday night and twice on Monday night, one short of the maximum prime-time appearances for any team. Three of those games would come in a five-week stretch.
Complaint department: Another rough area would center around the scheduled Week 7 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As expected, they would get their bye in Week 8. But their next game is also scheduled for the road, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite the presence of the bye, the NFL didn't do the Bears any favors here.
Unless you're a Bears (or Bucs) fan living in London, or you've got a Transatlantic frequent flyer ticket, I think you're hoping the lockout extends past Aug. 1. If that's the case, the NFL will revert the game to Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium. Call me a xenophobe if you want. From a competitive standpoint, I'm just not feeling this trip.
Cutler's return(s): Given the visceral reaction to quarterback Jay Cutler's knee injury in the NFC Championship Game, both inside and outside of Illinois state lines, I truly wonder whether it would be better for him to make his first 2011 start at home or on the road. We've assumed for some time that the Bears would open against the Packers at Lambeau Field, but now we know they would host the Atlanta Falcons. If Soldier Field is anything other than a friendly place for Cutler that day, he's in for a long season.
If the NFL really wanted to have some fun, it would have sent the Bears to open their regular season at the Denver Broncos, where Cutler played the first three seasons of his career. Instead, that game would be played in Week 14 at Invesco Field.
Bears Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 25, Green Bay, 4:15 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 5: Monday, Oct. 10, at Detroit, 8:30 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, Minnesota, 8:20 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Monday, Nov. 7, at Philadelphia, 8:30 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, San Diego, 4:15 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 25, at Green Bay, 8:20 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, at Minnesota, 1:00 PM