Bears have Chance for Quick Start

From year to year it's difficult to tell which teams will make the jump from loser to winner, but the 2005 schedule presents the Bears an opportunity for early success.

In the season's first three months there is only one team with a winning record from a year ago. Four of the opening six games will be at Soldier Field. Conversely the final month of the '05 campaign will present a stiff challenge with games against three defending division champions.

"Every team in our league has a tough schedule," said head coach Lovie Smith. "We want to get off to a good start and I like that we only have to travel two of the first seven weeks of the season.

"It's an opportunity to play a few early home games in front of our fans at Soldier Field and hopefully that helps us develop some momentum to start the season."

The season opener is against the Redskins (6-10) at Washington on Sept. 11. The Bears return to Soldier Field to host the Detroit Lions (6-10) and Cincinnati Bengals (8-8) on Sept. 18 and 25 respectively.

The bye comes in Week 4 and will give the Bears a chance to prepare for an Oct. 9th road matchup against the Browns (4-12).

The Bears return home on consecutive weekends for games against the Minnesota Vikings (8-8) and Baltimore Ravens, who are coming off a 9-7 season and are the only squad with a winning record the Bears will face until December.

Following back-to-back road games against the Lions and New Orleans Saints the Bears return home for matchups against the San Francisco 49ers (2-14) and Carolina Panthers (7-9).

November wraps up with a trip to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers (5-11).

The Bears will hope to have a lead in the NFC North or be in the thick of the wildcard hunt because the final five games of the season are against teams that had a combined record of 44-20 last year.

The month opens with the Green Bay Packers (10-6) coming to Chicago. After a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers (15-1) the Bears will have their only primetime appearance of the season when they'll play Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons (11-5) on ESPN.

The Bears will have a chance to give fans the ultimate gift on Christmas, when the team travels to Green Bay to play the Packers.

"It's exciting any time you can play a nationally-televised game, but to continue a series with the history and tradition of our series against Green Bay on a national stage, with everyone watching, should be special," Smith said.

The season concludes with another holiday tilt on the road, the Bears will face the Vikings on New Year's Day.

Thirteen of the 16 games are noon starts with the only exceptions being a 3:15 kickoff against Baltimore, the Sunday Night game on ESPN vs. Atlanta and a 4:00 p.m. start on Christmas vs. the Packers.

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