Thank the Los Angeles Rams for the Chicago Bears playoff berth, or blame the Arizona Cardinals for the Bears likely to be picking outside of the Top 20. Regardless of which camp you fall in to, the Bears are in the playoffs with a Sunday date against the New Orleans Saints.
For the most part, the Bears hung well against a dominant Green Bay Packers team. They actually went into the fourth quarter down 21-16 with a chance to take the lead. A failed fourth down attempt later and things got out of hand quickly and the score ended up at 35-16. Are there any moral victories here? No, but again, the Bears got into the dance and that’s all that this organization could ask for after losing six straight games earlier in the year.
So now what? These next few weeks will be interesting, especially if this team gets blown out again next Sunday.
1. Love it or hate it, many fans would have taken this type of road to the playoffs prior to the 2018 season.
It’s hard to look back a few years, but sometimes I think it’s needed for perspective.
Should fans feel good about Week 17’s happenings? No. The Bears lost by 19 points and still made the playoffs. With that being said, this will be the second time in three years they’ve made it to the dance. Considering they went almost a decade in between playoff appearances before 2018, maybe we should be more thankful? Then again, where does this leave the Bears heading into the off-season.
Despite making the playoffs, they don’t have a ton of cap space to work with a plenty of key decisions to make very soon. That includes what to do at quarterback, whether or not to franchise tag receiver Allen Robinson and how they’ll retain kicker Cairo Santos this off-season. They’ll have to do all of that with less than $30 million in projected cap space (assuming something closer to a $190 million cap) and draft picks that will likely reside outside of the top 10 in each round.
All these last four weeks have done is muck up the water even more going into yet another crucial off-season.
2. If there’s one thing Matt Nagy proved on Sunday afternoon, it’s that he still does not trust quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
For all of the talk about Trubisky playing himself back into a future in Chicago, the offensive play calling and overall gameplan sure didn’t reflect that, did it? Trubisky only attempted a handful of passes over five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and the play calling as a whole went back to playing not to lose, rather than the period in which they averaged over 30 points-per-game.
So, what changed? My theory is that not only did Nagy take back over offensive play calling, but he actively game planned around Trubisky not giving the game away, instead of going with what has worked in the four weeks prior. Why? Because this is who Nagy is and he simply can’t help himself. Trubisky attempted just seven passes of 10 yards and beyond. He completed just two of those.
What now? Only time will tell, but I’m sure the team’s front office is once again looking at the Nagy and Trubisky relationship and realizing that it’s not a match made in heaven, which means they’ll have some key decisions to make this off-season. My guess? Nagy stays and the Bears choose to upgrade at quarterback through the veteran route. Rumor is, Carson Wentz could be available. There will also be plenty of viable veteran upgrades that will be testing the market as well.
3. Fair or not, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s job has to be seriously at risk.
By all accounts, Pagano seems like an outstanding human being. He also had plenty of success as a defensive mind earlier in his career. Now? It appears that he couldn’t be doing much less with the amount of talent he was given. By and large, this is the same unit that Vic Fangio left. Yet, this is the second straight year in which the defense has taken a step back and it makes little sense.
Like it or not, the most likely change to be made may be at defensive coordinator. After seeing what Brandon Staley has done in Los Angeles, maybe the Bears will look internal with someone like Jay Rodgers? Either way, this team has far too many resources poured into this unit for this type of consistently bad play and that’ll have to change this off-season.
4. Speaking of the defense, what in the hell has happened to them since the bye week?
Plenty of blame can be assigned here outside of Pagano and it’s time to face that fact. Where to start...
How about a trio of defensive linemen that are making a combined $44.5 million in 2020 and have produced just 13 1⁄2 sacks on the year? Or maybe we should take a look at safety Eddie Jackson who had no interceptions and a poor passer rating against just months after signing a four-year, $58.4 million extension. If that doesn’t do it for you, let’s take a look at veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan who signed a three-year deal this past off-season and has looked a step or two slower all year. That coming off the heels of allowing both Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis to walk in Free Agency last off-season.
Combine it all together and you have a $100 million unit that has severely underperformed since coming out of their Week 11 bye week. They better get that figured out in a hurry because there’s not a ton of money coming off the books on that side of the ball any time soon.
5. While it has been widely reported that Nagy’s job is safe, why doesn’t anyone know what general manager Ryan Pace’s actual contract status is heading into this off-season?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen multiple reports stating Nagy’s job is safe. Understandable or not, we at least have an idea that there’s probably no change to be made at head coach. Even so, there has been minimal information on Pace. Not only about his job security but what his actual contract is.
Originally, it was reported that he was under contract until the conclusion of the 2021 season. Then there was some speculation that he signed a one-year extension to align himself with Nagy through 2022. Somehow, there’s been no clarification. Why is this a big deal? Because normally, you don’t see a general manager or head coach in a “lame duck” situation. If Pace is truly going into the final year of his deal this off-season, that’s exactly the situation he’d be looking at.
All in all, Pace’s contract status will likely provide a good look into just how secure his job is moving into the future.
6. For as much as folks will say the Bears don’t belong in the playoffs, they still won’t have the worst record of NFC playoff teams and that’s sad considering a 10-win Miami Dolphins team was left out of the playoffs with a loss on Sunday.
The NFC East has been a disaster this year. It started out with a four-team free fall to start the year. It continued once Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott went down for the season and somewhat salvaged itself when the Washington Football Team got hot. Problem is? Coming into Week 17, they had lost two in a row. They ended that skid on Sunday night and took the division at (7-9). Even so, that’s what makes the Bears’ (8-8) mark the second worst record in the NFC playoff picture, despite them being the seventh and final seed.
On the other side of things, the Dolphins capped off a surprising year with a blowout loss at the hand of the Buffalo Bills. While it was a sad end for a very nice story in 2020, it also highlights how the current NFL playoff format isn’t always fair. Despite having one of the better records in the NFL, the Dolphins missed the playoffs while two teams in Chicago and Washington made it with .500 or below records.
I was all for the playoff expansion and still am, but it’s also going to have its warts from year-to-year with lesser teams getting in over better teams, even if they are in different conferences.
7. Health is going to be key moving into the Bears’ playoff matchup with three key players in question.
Receiver Darnell Mooney’s career game ended early in the fourth quarter after he was ruled out with an ankle injury. All-Pro caliber linebacker Roquan Smith’s Week 17 ended in the first half after an apparent elbow injury and rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson has missed three straight games.
They’ll need all hands on deck if they plan on winning Sunday. Having injuries to key starters heading into the playoffs is never a good thing, but it hurts even more when it’s key players like these three. My hunch? Johnson finally plays but we don’t see Mooney or Smith.
8. My two first orders of business this off-season?
Franchise tag Robinson and give Santos a two or three year deal around $4 million per year.
Again, I’m not sold that Trubisky is in their future plans, especially with Sunday’s happenings, but I do believe that Robinson is the clear tag candidate and extending Santos seems like a no-brainer. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Santos as the team’s first move, actually.
This is a team with plenty of choices to make, but these two seem like obvious moves, regardless of what they do at quarterback, general manager or any other matter.
9. With the Bears playing the Saints on Wild Card Weekend, running back Alvin Kamara’s status is worth keeping an eye on.
Mid-last week, it was announced the Kamara had tested positive for COVID-19. According to the most recent of information, Kamara was asymptomatic. If that continues, he would indeed be eligible to return for Sunday’s game. The big note in all of this? If the game were Saturday, he would not have been able to play. As much as I want to hate on this, the NFL was smart to keep the NFC’s second seed at as full strength as possible. Only time will tell if he’ll be able to play Sunday.
10. See you guys Sunday at 3:40 p.m. CT for the Bears versus Saints!
On Sunday night, the NFL announced the “Super Wild Card Weekend” schedule. The Bears will travel to New Orleans to face the saints at 4:40 p.m. ET, but here are the other matchups.
Bye Weeks: No. 1 Packers and No. 1 Kansas City Chiefs
No. 7 Indianapolis Colts (11-5) at No. 2 Buffalo Bills (13-3) (1:05 p.m. ET)
No. 6 Los Angeles Rams (10-6) at No. 3 Seattle Seahawks (4:40 p.m. ET)
No. 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-5) at No. 4 Washington Football Team (7-9) (8:15 p.m. ET)
No. 5 Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at No. 4 Tennessee Titans (11-5) (1:05 p.m. ET)
No. 7 Chicago Bears (8-8) at No. 2 New Orleans Saints (12-4) (4:40 p.m. ET)
No. 6 Cleveland Browns (11-5) at No. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) (8:15 p.m. ET)
This is the new playoff format with the seventh seed being added to each conference. The game that interest me the most? Watching the Browns in the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades.
If the Bears are to somehow advance, they would have yet another road appearance against the Packers.