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What Bears' strength of schedule means for 2021

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The Bears will enter the 2021 season with the third-most difficult schedule in the league, based on their opponents' combined winning percentage in 2020.

Upcoming Bears' opponents went 141-114-1 this past season, winning 55.3 percent of games. The Bears will play eight games against teams that made the playoffs, including two matchups with the division rival Green Bay Packers, owners of the NFC's best record in 2020.

To make matters more complicated, every non-division road game will come against a 2020 playoff team, including the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Across the NFL the range of schedules runs from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will face the NFL's hardest schedule with opponents that won 56.3 percent of their 2020 games, to the Philadelphia Eagles, whose opponents managed to win only 44.9 percent of their matchups last year.

While the difference may be small, an 11.4 percent swing, it indicates who is likely to face the most resistance to a playoff run. The average Steelers opponent will be roughly 9-7, while the average Eagles opponent will have been 7-9.

This past season, only one team ranked ninth or higher in strength of schedule, the Buffalo Bills, made the playoffs. Half of the playoff teams fell between the 10th-place Los Angeles Rams and 20th-place Tennessee Titans.

However, a team's strength of schedule tends to tell more about the past season than the upcoming one. The Steelers and Ravens were projected to play the easiest and second-easiest schedules, respectively, this season. However, the schedules they ended up playing were made significantly more difficult after the other half of the division (Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals) improved their records from 2019 to 2020.

The Bears were projected to play the 13th-hardest schedule coming into 2020. However, the increased difficulty does not preclude improvement. The Miami Dolphins went 5-11 playing against the 18th-ranked schedule in 2019, then improved to 10-6 playing against the third-ranked schedule this past season.

Had the Dolphins won their Week 17 matchup against the Buffalo Bills and made the playoffs, they would provide the Bears with a nice template for next year.

The Bears have had a streak of demanding schedules since Matt Nagy took over as head coach in 2018. Nagy's 12-4 debut season came against what was projected to be the league's eighth-hardest schedule, although the Bears' success helped contribute to it finishing the season as the easiest schedule in the NFL.

Including 2018, the Bears have seen big swings between the expected difficulty of the schedule and the outcome. The Bears entered the 2017 season with an easier schedule ahead of them, ranked 19th by the previous season's records. However, by Week 15, that schedule had shaped up to be the hardest in the league, and the Bears ended up playing 10 games against opponents with winning records.

We've compiled each NFL team's strength of schedule in 2021 based on their opponents' records from the 2020 season. With the list sorted from easiest to hardest, flip through to see where the Bears rank. (Strength of schedule for each team is based on the NFL's current 16-game formula and is subject to change.)

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