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Five Bears things to watch for in 2023 NFL schedule release

Five things to watch for ahead of Bears' 2023 schedule release originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The NFL gave us one morsel of information Wednesday regarding the Bears' 2023 schedule.

Justin Fields and Co. will not face Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Germany. The Chiefs will host the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt, while the Bears will visit Arrowhead Stadium sometime this fall.

Aside from the lack of an international trip, the Bears' 2023 schedule remains a mystery until Thursday, when leaks will start pouring out, and the league officially reveals the schedule at 8 p.m. ET.

General manager Ryan Poles spent the last four months reshaping a roster that went 3-14 last season. On Thursday, we find out the path Poles' new roster must travel this fall.

Here are five things I'll be looking for when the full slate is revealed Thursday:

Can you feel the Love?

After tormenting the Bears for 15 seasons, Aaron Rodgers' reign in Green Bay finally ended this offseason when the Packers traded the mercurial quarterback to the New York Jets.

Let the Jordan Love era begin.

Rodgers went 24-5 in his career against the Bears. The surefire Hall of Famer clowned, humiliated, and dominated the Bears for almost two decades.

In Rodgers' words: He owned them.

But now that Rodgers is off to find a darkness retreat just off the New Jersey Turnpike, the Bears will have a chance to flip the script on their hated NFC North rivals.

The Bears are the team with the more established quarterback in Justin Fields. They added top-tier talent on both sides of the ball, acquiring wide receiver DJ Moore from the Carolina Panthers and signing linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards to bolster the second level of the defense.

Even Packers veteran offensive tackle David Bakhtiari admitted Green Bay might be bad in 2023 as it begins a rebuild around Love.

There's no better time for the Bears to seize control of the rivalry than in 2023. If not now, when?

No regrets

The Bears owned the No. 1 pick at the start of the offseason. It was a Scarlet Letter Poles claims he wasn't proud of, but deep down, he understood the opportunity that asset presented.

Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus, and the Bears' staff evaluated the top quarterback prospects but ultimately decided to stick with Justin Fields and hold an auction for the No. 1 pick.

The Carolina Panthers jumped at the chance to move up from No. 9 to No. 1, sending Moore and several draft picks to Chicago for the right to draft Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

The Bears will host Young and the Panthers this fall.

It will be the first "what could have been" matchup for the Bears against the quarterback they could have drafted. It will also provide the Bears with an opportunity to better their own 2024 draft fortunes. The Bears own the Panthers' 2024 first-round pick, so a win will serve two purposes.

Measuring-stick games

Last season, the Bears finished the campaign with December games against the eventual NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles and the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.

The Bears were competitive in both contests, but the talent gap on the other side was notable.

Those games gave the Bears an idea of what is needed to live in the Super Bowl contender neighborhood.

In 2023, the Bears will face the NFL's real measuring stick when they visit the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. After spending a few seasons covering a Raiders team that constantly measured itself against Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, I can tell you these affairs are generally unpleasant.

But it will serve as a good opportunity for Poles to assess his roster and see where more work needs to be done. (Start with the defensive line.)

The Bears will also face Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers are one of the few teams in the NFL that give the Chiefs problems and will be viewed as a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick yet again.

While the Chiefs are the ultimate measuring stick, facing the Chargers should also give the Bears a good test to see how far away from legitimate contention they are early in the rebuild.

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New King In The North?

With Rodgers gone, there's a void left atop the NFC North. Yes, the Vikings won the division last season, but their run always felt fluky and national attention remained on the Packers in the NFC North.

Now, the throne is truly up for grabs.

The Detroit Lions will enter the season as the favorite to win the division. The Lions have built a loaded roster with top draft picks at almost every position.

A slow start to the 2022 season doomed the Lions' playoff dreams. Will 2023 be the year the roar is finally restored? Or will the competitively rebuilding Vikings, led by contract-year Kirk Cousins, find a way to repeat?

While I think the Bears are at least a year away from truly contending for the division, a seemingly soft schedule could allow them to hang around the playoff chase into December. As long as Fields takes the needed leap as a passer, the Bears should play a factor in a division that might have a 9-8 winner.

Winnables

When last season's schedule dropped, everyone penciled the Bears in for six-to-eight wins based on a schedule filled with the NFL's worst teams.

The Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, New York Giants, and Washington Commanders all seemed, at least in May, like games the Bears could win.

The Giants made a surprise playoff run in Year 1 of the Brian Daboll era. That included a Week 4 win over the Bears. The Commanders' defensive line pummeled Fields, the Bears' offense dropped the ball in Atlanta, and Fields missed the Jets game with a separated shoulder.

All losses.

The Bears did manage to beat the Texans in Week 3, thanks to a Roquan Smith pick-six that set up a game-winning field goal.

Pencil in two losses to the Lions, and the Bears went 1-6 in the seven games believed to be "winnable" in May.

Well, I'm here to tell you the 2023 schedule will have some "winnable games" on it.

The Bears will visit the Commanders and second-year quarterback Sam Howell. They'll host an Arizona Cardinals team that likely will be without quarterback Kyler Murray for the season. The rebuilding Las Vegas Raiders come to town, as does Russell Wilson and Sean Payton's Denver reclamation project.

Add in the Jordan Love Packers and cross-division matchups with the Falcons and Tom Brady-less Buccaneers, and we have a recipe for another schedule ripe with May wins.

The 2023 Bears roster is much better on paper. Last season's unit was filled with undrafted rookies and veteran placeholders. The talent level was never there to suggest anything more than a five-win season.

To their credit, the Bears were competitive in most games. They beat the 49ers in a Week 1 monsoon, pantsed the Patriots in New England, and went toe-to-toe for two-and-a-half quarters with the Cowboys.

But in the end, 3-14 is 3-14.

More should be expected of the 2023 Bears. They should handle the Cardinals and Commanders. It's fair to expect a split with the Packers, a split with the Raiders and Broncos, and a 2-2 record against the NFC South.

Win the winnable games and see if you can pick off an unexpected W or two. That should be the goal for the 2023 Bears as they look to 2024 for a true return to contention.

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