Chicago Bears 34, Detroit Lions 31
Why do I like the Chicago Bears this week?
I always like…
Thoughts on the opponent…
Stats that matter…
There is only one relevant question facing the Bears as they head to Detroit Sunday: should the team actually want to win? It is hard to argue that answer is yes.
The team is currently positioned with the second pick in the NFL Draft and, as Dannehy pointed out yesterday, they should be considered the frontrunner for the top pick, as Houston is playing their best football in the final weeks of the season. Winning might provide some cosmetic confidence but it would also throw the Bears into a jumble with Denver, Arizona, and Indianapolis, three four-win teams with considerably easier strengths of schedule, the tiebreaker when it comes to draft order.
(Gaining confidence from meaningless victories is inherently nonsensical. A great number of 2022 Chicago Bears won’t be 2023 Chicago Bears. And the ones that stick around won’t require meaningless victories for confidence.)
If it were just about selecting a player, one could argue the difference between picking second and fifth isn’t that big a deal. Selecting players is a crap shoot. Don’t tell me you know what Jalen Carter or Will Anderson will be at the next level because you don’t. The fourth and fifth picks in 2022 – Sauce Gardner and Kayvon Thibodeaux – had significantly more impactful rookie campaigns than first overall pick Travon Walker. (Is there any question the Jags would take Sauce in a 2022 re-draft?)
What is not a crap shoot is the league’s consistently absurd overvaluing of quarterback prospects come draft time. The best years to select at the top of the draft are years where your team doesn’t need a quarterback and four-to-five QBs are projected into the first round. That’s exactly what 2023 looks like for the Chicago Bears. Ryan Wilson at CBS Sports projects four QBs in round one. Jamie Eisner at The Draft Network also projects four, with three of the first four picks being quarterbacks. Walter Football only projects three but all three gone in the first six picks. This may not be a draft deep at quarterback, but it is top heavy. And that’s when you want your pick at the top.
When you’re rebuilding your roster, the key is word is options. You re-sign key contributors to give yourself options in free agency. You’re judicious in free agency to give yourself options in the draft. And the higher the draft pick in the first round, the more options you have at that event. If the Bears have the first or second pick, they will have multiple teams making offers. There is no question about it. Look at how many teams currently slotted in the top 15 need QBS: Houston (1st), Seattle (3rd), Indianapolis (5th), Atlanta (6th), Detroit (7th), Carolina (8th), Vegas (9th), Tennessee (13th) and the Jets (15th). You can nitpick these quarterbacks all you like, but historically NFL franchises err on the side of hope.
The Bears will play Sunday. And with their rushing attack, and the porous Detroit rush defense, they could actually win the game. But with a roster in turnover, and the rostered group decimated by injury, it is hard to argue the positives of that potential victory. Having the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft gives the Bears the clearest path to a quick turnaround. That means losing on Sunday.
It isn’t too hard to remember when Bears fans were writing Thomas Graham Jr.’s name down as a key part of the organization’s future. The sixth rounder had a strong showing at the end of the 2021 season, after not playing at all up until that point. The expectation was that Graham would be a starter in 2022, but he wasn’t even close to that. He was injured early in training camp, but even after he was healthy the team instead decided to use roster spots on Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell. Graham went to the practice squad where he was later signed by Cleveland.
Cleveland hasn’t had much use for him. After being signed to the active roster originally, Graham was demoted to the practice squad. He was promoted back to the active roster on Oct. 31 but didn’t play a single defensive snap until last week.
Graham’s story isn’t uncommon. Bears fans, especially, should know to be cautious when it comes to how a player looks at the end of a dead-end season, though the Devin Aromashodu highlights can be fun. Who can forget Brock Forsey running for 134 yards? My guess is most of you did.
We won’t learn a whole lot about the Chicago Bears in the last four games of the season.
The Bears are unlikely to win any of their remaining games. The Philadelphia Eagles might be the best team in the league. If they’re not, that distinction could be awarded the Buffalo Bills. Since starting the season 1-6. the Detroit Lions have been a top NFC side, going 5-1 and last Sunday, making their case as the best team in the NFC North (despite overall record). The Minnesota Vikings will win the division but with Dallas and San Francisco breathing down their necks for the two seed, they will need a win in the finale. In none of these final four contests will the Bears be less than a touchdown underdog. They may steal a victory in this closing month, but it’ll be a surprise if they do.
So, what is left for the Bears fan? The answer, sadly, is not much.
Justin Fields has proven to be one of the most electric quarterbacks in the league and the future at the position in Chicago. That was everything in 2022.
We know what the Bears have on their offensive and defensive lines, i.e., not much. (Teven Jenkins can play, it seems. Can Braxton Jones? I honestly don’t know.)
We’ve seen glimpses of production from the receivers (Claypool, Harry, EQ) but know improvement is needed. We’ve seen production in the secondary but know reinforcements are needed there as well. (You can never have enough quality corners.)
And we’ve seen quite the revelation in Jack Sanborn, whose production the last few weeks saved the Chicago Bears about $100 million in what would have been misallocated resources.
The beats will beat on; they don’t have the luxury of this approach. Kevin Fishbain can’t just write, “Ah, fuck it, this game doesn’t mean anything,” and still hope his direct deposit from the fine folks at The New York Times Company goes through. But if the Bears are smart, they are going to use these final four contests for purely evaluative purposes. That means any player with a tenuous role moving forward should be on the field for meaningful reps. These are not preseason games. These are four real contests against good teams with the world to play for. You want to find out what these young players have?
Draft position is important. But there is little drama remaining there. Even if the Bears steal another victory, they will be picking in the top five, and likely the top three. With this draft reportedly top heavy at quarterback, Ryan Poles should have an opportunity to trade back and add premium picks. (This roster needs them.) If a big trade doesn’t surface, Poles will have to decide whether to a top lineman prospect or electrifying wide receiver. I can tell you right now, having watched what’s happening around the league, I’ll be pushing for the latter.
Enjoy this final month, Bears fans. The team has their quarterback and 2023 Bears, while not yet contenders, should be the most entertaining team on the lakefront in modern history. The arrow for this franchise is pointed decidedly up, with an exciting off-season soon to come. We just have to suffer through a few losses down the stretch to get there.
Overall, I’m not sure I have watched a first half with less to write about.
Four Things I Think Will Happen.
Chicago Bears 34, Lions 20
Does the question even need to be asked?
Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears this Week?
With both of these teams being able to run it, neither being able to stop the run, and neither being able to generate pressure, this game will come down to quarterback play. And right now, that is a mismatch that favors the Chicago Bears.
— Bodega Cats (@Bodegacats_) November 8, 2022