Brandon Marshall's addition apparently made the Bears a prime-time target. (Chris Walker/Tribune Photo / April 17, 2012)

Bears to open at home vs. Colts, play 5 games in prime time

Wed, 04-18-2012
By: Brad Biggs

Adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall to what was a .500 team has made the Chicago Bears popular.

That is evident as they totaled the maximum number of prime-time games -- five -- when the NFL released the 2012 schedule Tuesday evening. Their first night game will be at Green Bay in Week 2 on Thursday, Sept. 13, as the league has expanded to Thursday games throughout nearly theentire season starting this year.

The Bears open the preseason with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Thursday, Aug. 9, and then start the regular season with his former team. They will host the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 9 at Soldier Field, setting them up for a likely matchup with Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterbackexpected to be the No. 1 pick in next week’s draft.

Since 1984, the Bears are  16-3 when they open the season at home.

"We started our offseason program yesterday and received our schedule today, so our 2012 season is officially underway,” coach Lovie Smith said in a statement released by the team. “I love starting the season at home in front of our fans. I don’t think there is a better place to kick off the season than playing at Soldier Field on the lakefront. Playing five of our first 10 games in prime time also stands out. Each week brings its own challenge and we are excited to begin our pursuit of a world championship.”

The Colts are the first opponent in a stretch that could help the Bears to a fast start. While it will be difficult facing the defending NFC North champion Packers on a short week in Green Bay, they then return home to host the Rams at noon on Sept. 23 and then go to Dallas on Monday night, Oct. 1, in Week 4 for the second-prime time game. The other three prime-time games are vs. Detroit at home on Monday, Oct. 22; vs. Houston at home on Sunday, Nov. 11; and at San Francisco on Monday, Nov. 19.

In Week 5, the Bears play at Jacksonville at 3:05 p.m., the third opponent of the first five starting with a new coaching staff. The Bears will be off the week of Oct. 14. After hosting the Lions, they will host
Cam Newton and Carolina on Oct. 28. Next up are two games against the AFC South: at Tennessee on Nov. 4 and home vs. Houston.

After visiting San Francisco, the Bears will host Minnesota on Nov. 25 and Seattle on Dec. 2. Then come two games against division rivals: at Minnesota on Dec. 9 and home vs. the Packers on Dec. 16,their final regular-season home game.

The Bears close the season on the road at Arizona on Dec. 23 and Detroit on Dec. 30. While they have three of their final four games on the road, the Vikings and Cardinals both struggled last season.

The Bears have opened at Soldier Field in each of the previous two seasons after starting on the road for five consecutive years. Game times for the final six games are subject to change because of flexscheduling.

Based on the Aug. 9 date for the first preseason game, the Bears will be able to hold their first practice of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais on July 26. The club has not released
the training camp schedule yet. 

Other Bears schedule notes:

*Last year, the Bears had four prime-time games, appearing twice in NBC’s Sunday night slot and twice on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The team is 1-6 in its last seven appearances on Sunday night. Overall, the Bears are 8-8 in the time slot under Lovie Smith. The team has done well on Mondays in recent history, winning seven of the last nine dating back to the wild 24-23 victory at Arizona during the 2006 Super Bowl season.

*The Bears will play at Jacksonville and Tennessee for the first time since 2004. It marks quarterback Jay Cutler’s first trip to Nashville in the regular season as a member of the Bears. It will only be the second regular-season game the Bears have played in the city.

*The week off falls in Week 6. The Bears have been fortunate to have their week off near the middle of the season in the recent past. In three of the last four seasons, the Bears’ bye came in Week 8 and in2007 it was in Week 9.

*The Bears will play the Seahawks for the fourth consecutive year and the eighth time total since 2006, counting playoff games in 2006 and 2010. All but two of the games have been played at Soldier Field. The Seahawks are not the only NFC West foe frequently on the docket. The trip to San Francisco marks the fifth time the teams have met under Smith and the sixth time since 2003.
*In five of the previous eight seasons, the Bears’ final regular-season game was vs. Green Bay or Minnesota. The league has placed a premium on having division games played late in the season in an effort to ensure as many games as possible have significance in the closing weeks. In the final three weeks over the previous eight years, the Bears played 15 NFC North games (out of a possible total of 24).

*It used to be the Bears tangled with the Lions regularly on Thanksgiving. But Detroit hosts Houston this season in its annual holiday appearance. The Lions and Cowboys rotate between hosting an AFC team and an NFC team for television purposes with the Fox and CBS contracts. The Bears have not played at Detroit on Thanksgiving since 1999. That’s a 13-year stretch. From 1977 to 1999, the Bears had seven meetings with the Lions on Thanksgiving at the old Pontiac Silverdome. The previous longest stretch without a Thanksgiving meeting between the clubs was from 1965 to 1976. It used to be the Bears and Chicago Cardinals did battle in Thanksgiving annually. They played annually from 1922 to 1933.

*Counting preseason, the schedule adds up to 14,256 air miles for the Bears. That is less than the 20,118 they logged last season thanks to the London game against the Buccaneers. It’s the fifth-most for the franchise since 1998.