Football season officially kicks off Thursday. The Bears get into the act against the Lions on Sunday. Though the Bears have a difficult schedule, these games stick out as the most important dates on the schedule. Here's why:
Week 3, Packers, September 27: Any game against the evil team north of the border is important, but this Monday night tilt is extra special because it marks Bears defense's first shot at stopping Aaron Rodgers, and seeing if the Bears can hang with the best of the NFC North.
Week 5, At Carolina, October 10: Until this season, Julius Peppers played his entire football career -- from peewee football on -- in North Carolina. This will be his first return home to play since signing with the Bears.
Week 10, Minnesota, November 14: Ugh. Brett Favre. Though just looking at him makes Bears fans nauseous, the good news is that statistically, he throws more interceptions in the second half of the season. The Bears secondary should have a field day.
Week 14, New England, December 12: In one of two games with the tough-as-hell AFC North, the Bears can prove that they are playoff worthy. If they can't stop Tom Brady's high-flying offense while Johnny Knox and Jay Cutler make mincemeat of the Patriots' weak secondary, then they don't belong in the post-season.
Week 16, Jets, December 26: There are two scenarios for this game, both of which will be fun. Either the Bears will need to win this game to remain in the playoff picture, or the Bears will be out of the playoffs and we can just watch the very entertaining Jets, headed by Rex Ryan. Win-win.