Bears Insider

Bears' five greatest mysteries ahead of NFL schedule release

The answers to our Bears schedule questions will come Wednesday

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The 2024 NFL schedule will be released in full Wednesday, but games have already started trickling out as the league manufactures the slow content drip that has come to characterize it for the past decade.

Three of the first four primetime games are known as of this writing, with only the "Sunday Night Football" matchup yet to be announced.

We have no clarity on Caleb Williams and the 2024 Bears' schedule, although they are expected to face the Jacksonville Jaguars in London in early October.

With the schedule release just a little over 24 hours away, here are the five questions regarding the Bears' path. (The opponents have been known for months, but the cadence is important.)

Welcome to the show

Williams' arrival has already added a swell of attention around a franchise that has mainly oscillated between moribund and mediocre for the last decade.

The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner enters the NFL as one of the most-hyped prospects in recent memory, so it would make sense for the league to showcase Williams and the offseason darling Bears in Week 1.

But the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets will play on Monday night, while the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns get the FOX 4:25 p.m. Sunday slot for Tom Brady's announcing debut.

That leaves "Sunday Night Football" as the lone big slot for Williams' pro debut. A home matchup against the Detroit Lions would tick a lot of boxes, especially with the Green Bay Packers opening in Brazil on Friday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

But it's also the New York Giants' 100th anniversary, so the league could cede the Sunday night spot to them and push Williams' primetime debut to another week.

I'm interested in the time slot for Williams' debut and the selected opponent. A game against the Lions or Minnesota Vikings feels likely. But the NFL could also opt for a sexier road game, potentially against the C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans, to push Williams' home debut to a primetime spot in Week 2.

No. 1 vs. No. 2

The Bears will face the Washington Commanders for the third straight season. The previous two have been "Thursday Night Football" affairs, but this year's bout comes with the added intrigue of Williams heading home to Washington, D.C., to face No. 2 overall pick Jayden Daniels and the Commanders.

Will the NFL give Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit a third straight Bears vs. Commanders game? It's an easy primetime slot to market the top two picks facing off. However, the NFL could also view it as an enticing matchup for Williams and Daniels to open their NFL careers, perhaps as the marquee game in the early Sunday window in Week 1.

Vaunted class

We know the Bears will face Williams and the Commanders, but it's unclear if he's the only member of the vaunted 2024 class they will see.

The Bears are set to host the New England Patriots and will see the division-rival Vikings twice. The Patriots drafted quarterback Drake Maye with the No. 3 overall pick, while the Vikings traded up one spot to No. 10 to select Michigan's J.J. McCarthy.

However, Maye and McCarthy will enter training camp in quarterback battles against Jacoby Brissett and Sam Darnold, respectively.

Will the Bears get to face Maye or McCarthy?

If those games are on the early side of the schedule, the Bears' chances of seeing Brissett and/or Darnold increase.

But if the games fall in the back half of the slate, it becomes more likely that they will see two of the quarterbacks they briefly evaluated en route to picking Williams.

Future of the rivalry

Aaron Rodgers' exodus gave the Bears a brief glimmer of hope in their rivalry with the Green Bay Packers.

That hope was quickly washed away in Week 1 last year when Jordan Love and the Packers walloped the Bears at Soldier Field to open the season.

The Bears concluded the season by scoring nine points in a loss at Lambeau Field.

Love survived early-season bumps and looked like a top-10 quarterback during the second half of the season.

The Packers did it again.

But things should be different this time. In Williams, the Bears finally have a game-changing quarterback who can go toe-to-toe with a Packers star signal-caller. At least, that's the hope and belief.

The first Williams vs. Love tilt should be the start of the next 10 years of this historic rivalry.

Williams' first game against the Packers could wind up being a "where were you when" moment in Bears history.

Benchmark game

Everyone in the weakened NFC is chasing the San Francisco 49ers. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have constructed a roster that has been among the league's best for half a decade, and they will once again enter the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites.

The Bears will visit Levi's Stadium this fall in a game that will give them an early barometer of where they stand in relation to the conference's top dog.

The 49ers have blue chip players at every premium position, including a dynamic offense with running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, and tight end George Kittle.

How will the Bears' ascending defense hold up? Can Williams and the offense hold their own against an elite defense led by defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner?

General manager Ryan Poles has quickly improved the Bears' roster, and inside Halas Hall, the belief is that the window for contention starts now.

A matchup against the 49ers will give them a data point to see how realistic those beliefs are.

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