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Trestman, Cutler will be facing more difficult challenges in 2014

Jay Cutler Marc Trestman

Jay Cutler, Marc Trestman

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2014 Bears OPPONENTS

HOME: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins

AWAY: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Bears' Alshon Jeffery headed to first Pro Bowl

Updated: January 9, 2014 4:00PM

I’m not a big believer in trying to analyze just how tough an NFL schedule might be nine months in advance.

With also-rans becoming contenders practically overnight and teams going from worst to first every season for more than a decade, last season’s results are not always a great predictor of what this season will hold.

That said, I feel pretty safe in predicting 2014 will be a bit more challenging for the Bears than 2013.

This past season, the Packers, Eagles, Bengals and Saints were the only playoff teams the Bears faced, and none of their nine other opponents had a winning record. In fact, four of those nine — the Rams, Vikings, Redskins and Browns — finished last in their divisions.

The Bears’ other 2013 opponents were the Lions, Cowboys, Giants, Ravens and Steelers. Do those teams, with the possible exception of Baltimore, appear to be on the verge of a big improvement any time soon?

The 2014 schedule, of course, again will include the Packers, Lions and Vikings. It’s impossible to predict how the Vikings and Lions will look with new coaches, but it’s reasonable to assume the Lions will be a better team.

The Packers will most definitely be tougher if Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews play both games.

Beyond the NFC North, the Bears will get the AFC East next season and will have to play the Patriots and Jets on the road. Those are definitely tougher trips than Pittsburgh and Cleveland were this past season, and the Patriots annually are one of the toughest tests in the league.

The Bills and Dolphins are on the upswing but were very beatable in 2013.

Beyond the Bills and Dolphins, the Saints and Cowboys also will visit again, as will Lovie Smith and his Buccaneers.

No real cupcakes at home, but no real juggernauts, either, although who knows how much better the Saints might be?

It’s the road that will be fraught with peril for the Bears. In addition to Lambeau Field, Ford Field, the Vikings’ temporary home at the University of Minnesota and New York and New England, they also will travel to Atlanta. The Falcons were the NFC’s No. 1 seed in 2012 and 2010, and, in spite of a 2013 season that blew up on them early, they should be right back in the playoff hunt next season.

Finally come the booby prizes. The Bears get to spend weekends in San Francisco and Carolina.

While I’m sure Jim Harbaugh and Ron Rivera will be the most gracious of hosts, these might be the two best teams in the NFL this season and could be again in 2014.

All counted, that’s six games against 2013 playoff teams and six games against teams with winning records in ’13. There are a lot more teams with arrows pointing up and a brutal road schedule that will be tough to survive.

Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and

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