The NFL released its schedule Tuesday, with the Chicago Bears opening Sept. 9 at Soldier Field against the Indianapolis Colts, and
presumably quarterback Andrew Luck, who is expected to be the first pick of the upcoming draft.
It will be the third consecutive year the Bears open at home.
In all, the Bears play the NFL's maximum of five prime-time games, with three outings on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," including contests at the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 21, and the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 19 in Weeks 4 and 11, and a home date against the Detroit Lions in Week 7.
"We started our offseason program yesterday and received our schedule today, so our 2012 season is officially underway," head coach Lovie Smith said. "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 schedule starts off quickly, with Chicago playing their first two games against the Colts and the Green Bay Packers -- which host the Bears in the first of the five prime-time games -- over a span of four days. The Bears play host to the Houston Texans on a Sunday night in Week 10 for the second-to-last prime-time outing.
While the schedule appears somewhat soft on the surface, considering Chicago's upcoming opponents combined in 2011 for a record of 126-130 (.492), the sequence of the contests might make things more difficult. On a schedule featuring just four 2011 postseason participants (Lions, 49ers, Texans and Packers), the Bears face Green Bay on the road in Week 2 for a Sept. 13 Thursday night matchup before hosting the St. Louis Rams in Week 3, followed by the outing against the Cowboys on Oct. 1.
Chicago's 2012 home opponents combined for a winning percentage of .430 in 2011, which qualifies as the league's easiest home schedule on paper. But the NFL seemed to counter that by putting together a challenging road schedule for the Bears, based on the .555 winning percentage in 2011 of the team's road opponents, which is considered the league's fourth most difficult road schedule.
The Bears play their last two contests on the road on Dec. 23 and Dec. 30 at Arizona and Detroit.
The team's bye comes in Week 6 (Oct. 14).