2016 Chicago Bears game-by-game predictions

On paper, the Chicago Bears have a favorable 2016 schedule that includes just one playoff team in the first six weeks. Armed with offseason upgrades Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman, Bobby Massie and Akiem Hicks, the Bears think they can compete for a playoff berth after finishing 6-10 in John Fox’s first season. Fox is known for orchestrating quick turnarounds in Carolina and Denver. All the ingredients are here for Chicago to significantly improve on its win total from a season ago.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 11 at Houston Texans, 1 p.m. ET

Fox gets a crack at his former pupil, quarterback Brock Osweiler. Beginning on the road is never easy, but Houston was the AFC’s weakest playoff team last season. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Monday, Sept. 19 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Eagles need some time to dig out of the mess left by Chip Kelly. Jay Cutler vs. Sam Bradford? I’ll take Cutler. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25 at Dallas Cowboys, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Bears have fared well at Jerry World. But traveling to Dallas on a short week is daunting, especially if Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is healthy, which is likely in the opening month of the season. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2 vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

Star wide receiver Calvin Johnson destroyed the Bears throughout his illustrious career. But Johnson is retired. And Matthew Stafford doesn’t scare anybody. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

The Colts were a disappointing 8-8 last season. That was just the third time since 2000 that Indianapolis failed to win 10 games. I expect them to be much better in 2016. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m. ET

Jacksonville spent a lot of money in free agency, but it's still Jacksonville. I like Gus Bradley, but in three seasons, he has won only 12 games. Record: 4-2

Week 7: Thursday, Oct. 20 at Green Bay Packers, 8:25 p.m. ET

Cutler broke the Lambeau curse in 2015. Now it’s time for payback. I expect the Bears to split with Green Bay, but because of last year, the Packers want this one … badly. Record: 4-3

Week 8: Monday, Oct. 31 vs. Minnesota Vikings, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Bears have extra time to rest and prepare for Minnesota. The Vikings will not sweep the season series again this year. Record: 5-3

Week 9: Bye week

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

The Bears have two weeks to get ready for Jameis Winston. Chicago won in Tampa Bay last season. There is no reason to think they can’t do it again, especially considering Lovie Smith is now coaching at the University of Illinois. Record: 6-3

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20 at New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

Playing back-to-back road games is tricky. Plus, the Giants, who also spent tons of cash in free agency, should be better in 2016. With a bunch of winnable home games on the horizon, this feels like a week the Bears could lose. Record: 6-4

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27 vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

Tennessee could be really good in a couple years, but it’s still early in their (very impressive) rebuilding process. The Titans finished 3-13 in 2015. They’ll give the Bears a good game, but I expect Fox’s team to pull out a close victory. Record: 7-4

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 vs. San Francisco 49ers, 1 p.m. ET

The Niners pulled a rabbit out of the hat at Soldier Field last year to win 26-20 in overtime. The Bears will be better equipped to avoid another late collapse this time. Record: 8-4

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

There is just something weird about Ford Field. The Bears have not won there since 2012. Record: 8-5

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

Another signature victory for Fox. The Bears defeat Green Bay at Soldier Field for the first time since 2010. The gap is closing in the NFC North. Record: 9-5

Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24 vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET

You like that?! No, Bears fans do not. Kirk Cousins leads the Redskins to a surprise win over the holidays. Record: 9-6

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1 at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The Bears lose their first game in Minnesota’s new stadium. Fox just has to hope that nine wins are enough to earn a wild-card spot in the playoffs. Record: 9-7