My Friends,

The masters in the NFL scheduling room have spoken, and it looks like they really, really like the Bears. With a total of ten games scheduled at night or as the late Sunday afternoon feature it's obvious the powers-that-be donít think last year was a fluke. Otherwise, why would they choose to showcase them and risk the poor TV ratings that go along with a dud game?

After opening on the road in the prime Sunday late game against LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers, the Bears return home to open in the same time slot, hosting Larry Johnson and the Chiefs. You have to think that Drew Rosenhaus and Lance Briggs are smirking somewhere, thinking about Briggs' threat to sit out the first ten games while the Bears open against the NFL's top two rushers. And it doesn't get any easier the following week with Dallas and Julius Jones coming to town for a Sunday night visit to the lakeshore.

But you know the McCaskeys are smirking, too, thinking about the $423,000 or so they'll be throwing into the Miracle-Gro fund for Ed's garden every week Briggs stays away.

Back to the schedule. Things briefly get back to normal in week four, as the Bears travel to Motown for their first noon game. But it's right back onto the national stage the following week with a trip north to smell the dairy air at night. Thankfully the Sunday night game against the dreaded cheese comes on Columbus Day weekend, meaning tanked up packer fans making the trip can sleep it off in the back seat of their rusty Valiant without worrying about missing their Monday shift at the rendering plant.

Week seven follows with a trip to the City of Brotherly Love and a game against the Eagles, where Bears fans traveling with the team can debate the relative merits of Geno's vs. Pat's steak sammies for Sunday brunch before another afternoon late game. The first half finishes up with the Bears hosting their first traditional noon start, a rematch with the Lions, followed by a week 9 bye.

A couple of west coast trips open up the second half of the schedule, beginning with another late afternoon game in Oakland followed by a Sunday night trip to the Emerald City to meet the Seahawks. There's a little more normalcy on the home front, with games at Soldier Field against Denver, green bay and the Saints all scheduled for Sunday noon starts. The only late home game during the second half comes on December 2nd, when the Giants of New Jersey come visiting. Other second half trips include a Thursday night visit to our nation's capital on December 6th, followed by a Monday night affair in the Minnesota Rollerdome on December 17th.

But beware. Just because the schedule makers saw fit to tell us what the primary designated Sunday night games are late in the season (a switch from last year) flexible scheduling is still the order of the day. That means for any week from November 11 on NBC can opt to switch the originally scheduled game for one they deem more attractive. Typically, this move has to come 12 days before game day, but they can make the move with only six days notice for the final week of the season. Faced with the prospect of broadcasting Kansas City visiting the Jets, the Saints at Soldier Field could be an enticing option.

Make sure you remember to give your spouse or significant other a heads-up for those late season games and that you don't promise to cook dinner weeks 11 through 17. And don't forget to use pencil once you get to November. Just like last year, you've been warned!