13 Ravens opponents in 13 days: Chicago Bears

In eager anticipation of the 2013 NFL season, Baltimore Sun blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will take a daily look at one of the 13 opponents on the Ravens’ regular-season schedule. Today is the Chicago Bears.

In Week 11 of the 2013 season, the Ravens will travel to the Windy City to play the Chicago Bears. It will be their first game at Soldier Field in eight years. The Bears have a new coach in Marc Trestman, and linebacker Brian Urlacher, the face of the franchise for the past decade, retired after he was released by the Bears. But with quarterback Jay Cutler and wide-out Brandon Marshall, the Bears should be playoff contenders in 2013.

Recapping 2012: Thanks to an opportunistic defense and the combination of Cutler and Marshall, the Bears got off to a 7-1 start. But Cutler got knocked out of a Week 10 loss to the Houston Texans and sat out the following game, another loss. The Bears lost five of six games, all to eventual playoff teams, and missed the playoffs despite finishing 10-6. They ranked 16th in scoring offense and their defense was third in points against.

Cha-cha-changes: After the season, the Bears fired long-time coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with Trestman, an offensive-minded coach who had been coaching in the Canadian Football League. The Bears parted ways with Urlacher, a divorce that was a little contentious at first. They replaced him with D.J. Williams and also signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod, tight end Martellus Bennett and former Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski as free agents. The Bears drafted six players, starting with Oregon guard Kyle Long, a surprise pick at No. 20 overall.

The skinny: After winning the NFC North in 2010, Cutler's second season in Chicago, the Bears have missed the playoffs the past two seasons, resulting in the firing of Smith. But the Bears weren't far off last season. They are optimistic that they have improved their offensive line in free agency and they hope Trestman, a quarterback's coach, can get the most out of Cutler. For the most part, one of the NFL's top defenses from 2012 remains intact. Defensive end Julius Peppers is still a threat and Charles Tillman is one of the NFL's most underappreciated defenders.

Recent history: The Ravens and Bears last played four years ago, with the Ravens winning a critical late-season game as they snuck into the playoffs. Joe Flacco threw a career-high four touchdown passes in a 31-7 rout and Cutler chucked up three interceptions. How long ago was that game? Todd Heap had two touchdown catches and Derrick Mason and Demetrius freaking Williams also scored. The all-time series is tied at two games apiece.

Degree of difficulty: This is a road game halfway across the country after three straight games against AFC North rivals, a scenario that would have raised a red flag last season. The Ravens, of course, figured out how to play on the road when it mattered most, but we don’t know if it will carry over to this season. Cutler and Marshall should challenge the Ravens secondary and the Bears could pick on Flacco if he isn’t sharp. Let’s give this one a degree of difficulty of 6.5 out of 10.

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