The Chicago Bears face some high expectations going into the 2012 season.
After a 7-3 start last year, the Bears dropped five straight, after key injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte crippled their offense. This season, the Bears added a big group of new wide receivers, including Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
They also added depth at key positions, with Jason Campbell backing up Cutler and Michael Bush backing up Forte.
But to make it to the playoffs, the Bears are going to have to win at least nine games. Probably 10. Here are some of the tougher matchups they will face this season.
Week 2—Sept 13 at Green Bay Packers
Both games against Green Bay are going to be tough for the Bears this season, but this game could kick start the season or drag things to a standstill.
The Bears open at home against Indy, but they travel to Green Bay just four days later for a prime-time matchup on Thursday night. Even if the Bears don't win this game, they need to play it close.
If they get beat 35-21 right out of the gate, it could signal the start of a long, painful season.
Week 4—October 1 at Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have a lot of firepower, and they made some significant upgrades to their secondary this offseason.
This Monday night game will be a good test of the new Chicago passing offense. The game is definitely winnable for Chicago, and a tough win on the road could really give them a boost. However, they travel to Jacksonville the following week before an early bye.
A heartbreaking loss on the road to Dallas followed by a short week before heading to Jacksonville could turn an "easy win" into a "must win."
Week 7—October 22 vs. Detroit Lions
Another big Monday night matchup against a tough division opponent.
This time, though, the Bears get two weeks to prepare, and the Lions will be coming off a road game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's important that the Bears play hard and post a solid win against Detroit.
An early bye week means 11 games in a row without a break. It's important for the Bears to put the Lions down in this game and start the stretch off right.
Week 11—November 19 at San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers nearly made it to the Super Bowl last season, and they made significant improvements during the offseason.
Another prime-time matchup for Chicago on the road against a tough opponent could set the stage for the rest of the season. Not only does Chicago have to play tough in this game, but they need to come out of it physically and mentally intact.
Three of their next four games are against division opponents, and they can't afford to lose key players to injury or lose mental focus because of a tough loss on Monday night.
Week 14—December 9 at Minnesota Vikings
This game kicks off the toughest part of the season for Chicago.
Three of the last four games are on the road. Three of the last four game are against division opponents. This will also be their eighth game since the bye week, and injuries and fatigue could also be a concern.
Minnesota is a tough place to win, and the Bears will need to notch this win if they hope to start their playoff run. Minnesota loves to play the spoiler role though, and they won't roll over in this game.
Week 15—December 16 vs. Green Bay Packers
This is the final home game of the season. Both teams will be in the thick of the playoff hunt. Both will need another division win. Both hate each other and will play a full 60 minutes.
It doesn't come any tougher than this for the Bears.
Week 17—December 30 at Detroit Lions
Would it surprise anyone if the winner of this game makes the playoffs and the loser goes home?
In all likelihood, that's exactly what it will come down to. The Lions have their final two games at home. The Bears have their final two on the road.
The Bears will need to dig DEEP if they hope to win it all. Hopefully everyone is healthy and playing at a high level. This could set the stage for a nice playoff run or a rough offseason with more rebuilding and more changes.