Quarterbacks Drew Stanton, Joe Webb, Tyler Thigpen and Jimmy Clausen – these names do not strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. Yet these were four starters the Chicago Bears defense manhandled during last season. Facing these backup quarterbacks – as well as having the 23rd easiest schedule in the league, with opponents tallying a 125-131 record – was one of the many reasons the Bears were the most under-appreciated and criticized team in the league in 2010.
Chicago can't control another's team inability to keep its No. 1 quarterback off the injured list, but if the team faces all its opponent's starters in 2011, it's going to be a tough season.
First off, due to the team's participation in the Hall of Fame game, the Bears will be playing five pre-season games, one more than all but one other NFL team. This could create more wear and tear on the team and will almost assuredly result in a few more injuries to start the season. If one of those injuries happens to an impact player like Devin Hester or Lance Briggs, Chicago will be playing from behind all season.
Once the games get underway, Chicago has the fortune of playing three out of its first four games, and four out of its first six games, at home. That may seem like an advantage, until the opponents of those games are taken into consideration. Those first four home games are against Atlanta, Green Bay, Carolina and Minnesota. Facing the reigning NFC South champion and Super Bowl champion in the first month is far from ideal.
In addition, the away games in Week 2 and Week 4 are against the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions respectively. It's conceivable the Bears could start the season 2-4, or even 1-5, despite the home field advantage.
Then things get ugly. Chicago heads to London in Week 7, gets a bye in Week 8, then goes back on the road to face the Eagles in Week 9. In the back half of the season, the Bears will get to face the entire AFC West, which could be the best division in football next year. The circus finishes with road trips to Green Bay and Minnesota.
ESPN ranks the Bears schedule as the 18th hardest in the league, with the records of opposing teams last year at 128-128. Yet, except for the Panthers and Seahawks, there isn't a single team on Chicago's schedule that won't be significantly better than they were last year. At the end of the season, it wouldn't be shocking to find the winning percentage of Bears' opponents one of the highest in the NFL.
Since we currently reside in the seventh circle of hell known as the NFL lockout, it's nearly impossible to predict how well the Bears will do next season. More than 400 free agents are currently unemployed and the draft is a week away. That didn't stop the Bear Report staff from predicting each game and concluding a 10-6 record. Yet, the Bears travel 20,802 miles next year – second only to the Chargers – and have an extra pre-season game. All of that will fatigue this team eventually and will most likely cost them a game. That leaves the Bears' record at 9-7 next year.
Unless it's a down year in the NFC, 9-7 most likely won't net Chicago a playoff spot. That is unless the team is fortunate enough again to play a cadre of second- and third-string quarterbacks.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.