It's time for the Bears to face facts.
The schedule revealed by the NFL on Thursday could be worse for them, but at the same time that they are looking at those 17 games and seeing a few stretches against easier opponents, those same teams are looking at those same games on their schedules and seeing real opportunity wearing a "C" on their helmets.
Such is life in the NFL for the average rebuilding team. You can't count on victories. The rebuilding team becomes a losing team's streak buster or a team that elite teams rout after several tight battles.
Justin Fields, Roquan Smith, David Montgomery and Co. will need time to put this together because GM Ryan Poles wants it done the right way, not the way it was done by the last regime.
In 2018 no one knew what Matt Nagy would bring to the team but he didn't need to go through a total rebuild. The Bears already had a good defense with the same defensive coordinator and only needed to assemble an offense. They had an easy schedule and won the division, but the offense never really materialized and they went nowhere the next three years.
In Matt Eberflus' first year, the Bears have completely rebuilt both sides of the football using new systems. It's going to be a rocky ride no matter how easy some of those opponents might look.
It looks like a 7-10 season because the schedule isn't particularly difficult.
Here's how those seven wins and 10 losses come about on a game-by-game basis in Eberflus' debut season.
Loss: 49ers 24, Bears 13
Sept. 11 at Soldier Field
It probably won't look much different than last year against the 49ers on the scoreboard but in that one the Bears dominated early then the tide turned on Deebo Samuel's 83-yard screen pass. This one should be all Niners, even if second-year QB Trey Lance starts and struggles. The problem for the Bears is San Francisco loves to run the ball and the Bears could have trouble stopping running teams all year with their current defensive line.
Loss: Packers 31, Bears 17
Sept. 18 at Lambeau Field
Aaron Rodgers is facing a 4-3 defense based in cover-2 zone now instead of the 3-4 he had figured out long ago, but he's seen any defense an opponent can throw at him at this point. He'll be thankful he only needs to worry about Robert Quinn coming after him instead of both Quinn and Khalil Mack.
Win: Bears 23, Texans 16
Sept. 25 at Soldier Field
The Bears play Lovie Smith's old defense, the cover-2, to perfection and come away with three takeaways, while David Montgomery and the running game rev up for the first time and he gains 121 yards. While the defense also has a good day, it's really more a result of Texans problems on offense with penalties and overall incompetence than Roquan Smith and Co. coming into their own.
Win: Bears 24, Giants 21
Oct. 2, at New Jersey
The defense fails to hold the lead late but Justin Fields steps up and makes his first last-minute drive to a winning score, a 48-yard field goal by Cairo Santos as time expires. An ugly game between two rebuilding teams with inexperienced coaches but it has an exciting finish thanks to Fields.
Loss: Vikings 19, Bears 17
Oct. 9 at Minneapolis
A thriller Fields can't pull out. He puts the Bears ahead late but their lack of an interior pass rush gives Kirk Cousins too much time to step up and find Justin Jefferson on the final drive to set up the winning field goal. The Bears offense continues to struggle with consistency due to sacks and penalties.
Win: Bears 21, Commanders 16
Oct. 13 at Soldier Field
The first real sign the Bears defense is starting to pull it together in the new scheme as an early Eddie Jackson interception return for a TD puts Chicago in command. They manage to avoid too many offensive mmistakes against a strong defense to earn the win. The Thursday night turnaround for a road game takes a toll on the Commanders, just like it did in 2020 for Tampa Bay in Chicago.
Loss: Patriots 30, Bears 20
Oct. 24 at New England
Mac Jones carves up the Bears zone on Monday Night Football for three touchdown passes, looking a bit like Tom Brady used to look. New England's defense keeps Fields from running and forces him to beat them with his arm, and he's not up to it with Darnell Mooney being blanketed and Bill Belichick's pass rush piling up four sacks.
Loss: Cowboys 33, Bears 14
Oct. 30 at Dallas
Ezekiel Elliott runs for 144 yards and two touchdowns and Dak Prescott adds two TDs as the Cowboys leave no doubt. Roquan Smith alone can't carry the faltering Bears run defense. A boring and frustrating game for the Bears as Trevon Diggs picks off Fields twice.
Loss: Dolphins 16, Bears 13
Nov. 6 at Soldier Field
The game is there to be won but the offensive line can't open the way for Montgomery and Khalil Herbert to run and Miami's secondary and pass rush hold Fields and Darnell Mooney in check. Red zone issues continue for the Bears offense as they aren't getting what they need from their tight ends near the goal line.
Win: Bears 24, Lions 20
Nov. 13 at Soldier Field
Fields has beaten the Lions before at Soldier Field with his arm and legs. This time it's his arm as a 240-yard passing day and two TD throws to Mooney provide a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and the defense preserves the win with a late Nicholas Morrow interception.
Win: Bears 17, Falcons 13
Nov. 20 at Atlanta
Marcus Mariota is no better at getting Atlanta's offense into the end zone than with Tennessee's offense, and Fields scrambles for a TD while David Montgomery enjoys a 109-yard rushing day with a TD. It's a game really owned by the Bears defensive front. They start to make more plays in the backfield and limit the Falcons to 69 yards rushing. Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone gives up on the running game early, just like his mentor Matt Nagy used to do.
Loss: Jets 24, Bears 23
Nov. 27 at New York
Just when it looks like the rebuilt Bears are gaining momentum and traction, disaster strikes with a late-game defensive collapse and a few turnovers, one a Fields pick and another on a sack. The Jets stick with their game plan and it's Zach Wilson engineering a comeback from a 23-10 deficit.
Loss: Packers 28, Bears 20
Dec. 4 at Soldier Field
The defense picks itself up off the floor after last week and Fields stakes the Bears to an early 10-0 lead but in the second half Aaron Rodgers does what he usually does—he throws three TD passes and then is obnoxious. He shows everyone he is wearing an "I still own you" T-shirt under his football jersey.
Win: Bears 20, Eagles 17
Dec. 18 at Soldier Field
The one thing Nagy's teams couldn't manage over the last three years was the real upset. This team achieves it over a 2021 playoff team. Their third straight home game is interrupted by a much-needed bye week, and the Bears use the rest, combined with progress they've shown in recent games to pull off the win. When Lovie Smith was coach and they used a similar defense, they rarely had trouble with running quarterbacks because they were in zone and facing the scrambler. They used to give Michael Vick problems every matchup. The same thing will happen to Jalen Hurts. The Bears keep Hurts contained, force him to throw and enjoy the benefits of two interceptions while Fields himself scrambles for 70 yards and a TD.
Loss: Bills 24, Bears 20
Dec. 24 at Soldier Field
The Bears show they're gaining more ground as they go toe to toe against the team that will win the Super Bowl in 2022. Fields' late TD march is offset by one from Josh Allen and the Bears lose despite 272 yards from their passing game.
Win: Bears 28, Lions 13
Jan. 1 at Detroit
At this point, Jared Goff has been benched and Detroit fans are clamoring for another new coach and another new GM after just two years, much like they do every other year. The Bears have been run through a gauntlet, have toughened up and don't resemble the team that started the year. They are entirely efficient as Fields throws for 9.5 yards per pass attempt and Montgomery gains 132 yards rushing.
Loss: Vikings 31, Bears 27
Jan. 8 at Soldier Field
Too many weapons on Minnesota's offense and the Bears can't do enough to slow down Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, but they make noise of their own with a Fields long TD pass to Mooney and a rare red-zone TD pass to Cole Kmet. The tough loss sparks Bears optimism for 2023 despite a 7-10 record, as does that $100 million-plus of salary cap space they have. It could have been much worse in a rebuilding year but the schedule helped, and now they'll go on to 2023 thinking they can compete in the NFC North.