By Brad Thompson–

CHICAGO (WSCR) The NFL released the complete schedule for the 2011-2012 regular season on Tuesday. If there is a NFL season this year, and right now that’s a big if, the Bears know whom, when and where they will play.

Let’s assume for the moment that the NFL owners and players come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement in time for the season to start as scheduled. Here’s the skinny on the Bears schedule…

Prime-time games

Two “Monday Night Football” games on ESPN: Week 5 at Detroit and Week 9 at Philadelphia. Last season the Bears also had two MNF games, one at home and one on the road.

Two Sunday night games on NBC: Week 6 at home against Minnesota and Week 16 (on Christmas Night) at Green Bay.

The Bears don’t have any Thursday night games on the NFL Network, which means they avoid the always-difficult task of preparing for a team in just four days.

Divisional games

As mentioned above, Chicago plays three of their six divisional games in prime-time, one on Monday night (at Detroit) and both of their Sunday night matchups (Minnesota at home and at Green Bay). They also have two divisional games on holidays. The Bears-Packers clash on Christmas Night at Lambeau Field. Then, the following week, Chicago visits Minnesota on New Year’s Day to end the season. So not only are these holiday games, but it means the Bears finish the season with two tough away games against division rivals.

Games outside the division

This year the NFC North plays the NFC South and the AFC West. The AFC West has been weak in recent years, with only Kansas City making the playoffs last season at 10-6. On the hand, the NFC South is loaded. It had three teams with at least a 10-6 record last season and two teams, Atlanta (13-3) and New Orleans (11-5), advance to the postseason.

The Bears play Atlanta at home in Week 1 and travel to the Superdome in Week 2 to face the Saints. It shouldn’t take long to find out if the Bears are for real, with two measuring stick games to start the season. Chicago plays all four NFC South opponents within the first seven weeks of the season.

In an unusual scheduling scenario, Chicago plays all four AFC West teams in consecutive weeks. Their AFC West run ends in Week 14 when they face the Broncos in Denver. This will be Jay Cutler’s first regular season game back in Denver since he was traded and the home crowd at Invesco Field will surely be fired up to see him.

Bye week

The Bears’ bye comes in Week 8. It’s the same week of the season that Chicago had its bye in 2010. Last year the bye week was critical to Chicago’s success. The Bears were 4-3 heading into the bye week and ended up making adjustments that would lead to their NFC North crown. The Bears won five straight and were 7-2 overall after the bye week last season.

What if…

With the owners and players association still squabbling back and forth about the new collective bargaining agreement, it’s anyone guess whether there will be an NFL season this year. One thing to consider is if the start of the season is in some way postponed, it wouldn’t be awful for the Bears. Missing the first two games of the season, against Atlanta and New Orleans, might actually help Chicago in the long run.

Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.

Brad Thompson

Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.