HERE’S AN­NUAL BEARS CALL ’EM

I’m not go­ing to pre­dict scores, but these are my TV-crew se­lec­tions for 2020 sched­ule

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JEFF AGREST ja­grest@sun­times.com | @jef­freya22

NFL teams of­ten get rec­og­nized by the na­tional TV net­works like play­ers in pur­suit of a Pro Bowl berth: a year late.

For ex­am­ple, when the Bears went 12-4 in 2018, Fox didn’t as­sign them a crew higher than fourth on its depth chart un­til Week 13, and it didn’t give them its top crew un­til Week 17.

With soar­ing ex­pec­ta­tions for the Bears en­ter­ing last sea­son, Fox gave them its top crew in Week 7, in ad­di­tion to na­tional broad­casts on Thanks­giv­ing and the fol­low­ing Thurs­day night.

The Bears were em­bar­rassed by the Saints in

Week 7, and talk even­tu­ally turned to whether they would be flexed out of Sun­day night games on NBC. Such is the roller-coaster world of the NFL.

As owner of the NFC pack­age, Fox has 10 Bears games this sea­son, in­clud­ing one Thurs­day night game that will be called by the No. 1 crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aik­man. CBS, which gen­er­ally takes ad­van­tage of the Chicago mar­ket with a top-two crew, has three games, in­clud­ing a hereti­cal NFC matchup.

How will the net­works treat the Bears? Here are my an­nual pre­dic­tions for which crews will call Bears games on Sun­day af­ter­noons. The first three were re­leased. The rest are based on my own in­tu­ition, with some per­sonal pref­er­ence mixed in. (Sun­day games are sub­ject to flex­ing be­gin­ning in Week 5.)

Week 1: at Lions, noon, Fox

Kenny Al­bert (left) will call the game with a new part­ner, for­mer Jets and Saints line­backer Jonathan Vilma, form­ing Fox’s No. 4 crew. Fox didn’t re­new Ronde Bar­ber’s con­tract.

Week 2: vs. Giants, noon, CBS

The net­work will send its No. 2 team of Ian Ea­gle and for­mer Fox an­a­lyst Charles Davis. Ea­gle and Dan Fouts, whose con­tract wasn’t re­newed, were a pop­u­lar pair on the sec­ond team for the last six sea­sons. This game was cross-flexed from Fox to bal­ance the broad­cast sched­ule.

Week 3: at Fal­cons, noon, Fox

Al­bert and Vilma get their sec­ond Bears game in three weeks. Will this be a trend? With Al­bert on the call, it wouldn’t be a bad one.

Week 4: vs. Colts, noon, CBS

The Eye Net­work prob­a­bly won’t give the Bears its usual treat­ment. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo likely will call Pa­tri­ots-Chiefs at 3:25, and Ea­gle and Davis fig­ure to get Tom Brady’s first game back on CBS at noon. Hope­fully, that gives us the great Kevin Har­lan and part­ner Trent Green.

Week 5: vs. Bucs, 7:20 p.m., Fox

Speak­ing of Brady, he only en­hances Fox’s rights pack­age, which ben­e­fits from bet­ter markets than CBS’ AFC pack­age. This game com­bines Brady and the big city. Buck and Aik­man have the call on “TNF.”

Week 6: at Pan­thers, noon, Fox

The net­work has a weak un­der­card at noon be­fore the big Aaron Rodgers-Brady bout at 3:25. So let’s hear Bears pre­sea­son voice (ex­cept for this year) and new Bulls play-by­play man Adam Amin with part­ner Mark Sch­lereth, the net­work’s new No. 3 team.

Week 7: at Rams, 7:15 p.m., ESPN

Steve Levy, Louis Rid­dick, Brian Griese and Lisa Sal­ters.

Week 8: vs. Saints, 3:25 p.m., Fox

Buck and Aik­man fig­ure to be at 49ers-Sea­hawks. So it seems strange that a Saints of­fense-Bears de­fense matchup would be sched­uled at the same time, lim­it­ing its au­di­ence. If Fox sends the No. 2 team of Kevin Burkhardt and Daryl Johnston to its best noon game, Vik­ings-Pack­ers, Amin could have a true home game here.

Week 9: at Ti­tans, noon, Fox

Bears fans (or any other fans, for that mat­ter) won’t hear from Thom Bren­na­man this sea­son. Fox re­moved him from its ros­ter af­ter he used a ho­mo­pho­bic slur dur­ing a base­ball broad­cast. Kevin Ku­gler takes his spot along­side an­a­lyst Chris Spielman. It’s a good pair­ing, and as Fox’s No. 5 crew, it’s a good match for such a non­de­script game.

Week 10: vs. Vik­ings, 7:15 p.m., ESPN

Levy, Rid­dick, Griese and Sal­ters.

Week 11: Bye. Week 12: at Pack­ers, 7:20 p.m., NBC

Al Michaels, Cris Collinswor­th and Michele Tafoya.

Week 13: vs. Lions, noon, Fox

By now, the Bears and Lions could be fight­ing to stay out of last place. But even if both teams are fight­ing for a play­off spot, they rarely draw a top crew to­gether un­less Thanks­giv­ing re­quires it. Say hello to Ku­gler-Spielman again.

Week 14: vs. Tex­ans, noon, CBS

I’ve al­ways given the Bears a pass on pass­ing on Pa­trick Ma­homes. It’s avoid­ing Deshaun Wat­son that sticks with me. And if Mitch Tru­bisky is rid­ing the pine, that sto­ry­line could help send Ea­gle-Davis back to town, as­sum­ing Nantz and Romo are at Chiefs-Dol­phins.

Week 15: at Vik­ings, noon, Fox

Bears-Vik­ings might rate third be­hind Buc­ca­neers-Fal­cons and Ea­gles-Car­di­nals. If Fox keeps Pan­thers-Pack­ers away from NFL Net­work for Satur­day, it could rate fourth. Sounds like we might catch up with Al­bert-Vilma.

Week 16: at Jaguars, noon, Fox

If things go badly this sea­son, we could see a lot of Ku­gler-Spielman. But even if they don’t, this looks like the least at­trac­tive game of a loaded Fox lineup.

Week 17: vs. Pack­ers, noon, Fox

Two years ago, the Bears clinched the divi­sion against the Pack­ers at Sol­dier Field, and Fox gave us Chris My­ers’ No. 5 team. Noth­ing against My­ers, but fifth is fifth. And guess whom I haven’t picked for a Bears game yet this sea­son: My­ers with Greg Jennings and Brock Huard.

PAUL SANCYA/AP

Khalil Mack and the Bears will kick off Week 1 against the Lions on Sept. 13 at Ford Field.

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