— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) July 25, 2021
I always like the Chicago Bears…
…but this is a team in complete freefall.
This blog started in 2005. But 2006 was the first year things were taken seriously around here and that coincided with a magical run to the Super Bowl. From that season until Jay Cutler’s injury in the middle of 2011, it was a pleasure writing about the Chicago Bears daily. They weren’t perfect, by any means, but they were interesting.
But from then until now – with the exception of the 2018 mirage – it has been exhausting. Just think about all the mistakes this franchise has made:
Mistake after mistake after mistake. Exhausting.
I’m in Christmas mode. (And I have no interest in writing a breakdown of Texans v. Bears. Honestly, who cares?) Here are some fun performances of great Christmas songs. I’ll add a few more to this list over the next few weeks.
Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin, A Very Murray Christmas
The story feels written. The outcome assured. After the full-team collapse Sunday night in Wisconsin, it will surprise no one if, at season’s end or sooner, George McCaskey and family fire Ryan Pace, fire Matt Nagy and reassign Ted Phillips within the organization, away from football operations.
But for those wanting these changes to take place yesterday (or the day before) it is time for a pragmatic pause. Because while this season feels over, it is not actually over. The Bears face the bad Lions, with an interim coach and lame-thumbed quarterback, Sunday at Soldier Field. They face the bad Texans, who were apparently popping PEDs like Sweet Tarts, in that same building the following week. If they win both of those of those games they will be 7-6 and viably challenging for spot in the tournament.
And making the tournament still matters. The Bears, for as bad as they’ve looked offensively through this five-game losing streak, are one game out of the 7th spot and a game and a half out of the 6th spot currently held by Tampa, a team they have beaten. Just because this current incarnation of the club has zero shot of winning the Super Bowl doesn’t mean a playoff berth ceases to be an achievement. Winning these next two games would, if nothing else, earn Pace and Nagy the right to complete this 2020 campaign. That’s it. It would allow them the opportunity to fix the mess they’ve created. Is that likely? Of course not.
If the Bears lose EITHER of these next two games, the time for pragmatism ends. A seventh loss with three (or four) to play ends the dream of January football. And not making the playoff field in a year where the NFC has this little depth is certainly cause for termination. If the Bears lose either of these next two games, Pace and Nagy should be fired the following day. (The Ted reassignment can happen whenever.)
Will making changes in-season have any tangible impact? Unlikely. A few reasons:
Four games. I’ll give you a bet for each. (All odds courtesy of DraftKing Sportsbook.)
Saturday 3:35 PM Central
Bills at Texans (-2.5)
My heart is all-in for the boys from 716 but Josh Allen, facing a good pass rush, on the road, terrifies me. Look for Allen to use his legs a bunch in this one but I still don’t see Buffalo producing enough offense. If this line were a point higher, I’d go the other way. Begrudging Bet: Houston -2.5.
Saturday 7:15 PM Central
Titans at Patriots (-5)
Bill Belichick will go into this game with a one-track mind. If the Patriots stop Derrick Henry, they win. But Henry has quietly become the best back in football and New England struggles upfront against these bruising-type runners. I don’t know if Tennessee wins this game but I like them to keep it close. Bet: Tennessee +5.
Sunday 12:05 PM Central
Vikings at Saints (-8)
I thought the Saints were in the best team in football in 2017. They lost in the playoffs on a ridiculous play.
I thought the Saints were the best team in football in 2018. They lost in the playoffs on a ridiculous call.
I think the Saints are the best team in football in 2019. They’re not losing to Kirk Cousins. Bet: New Orleans -8.
The question I’ve been asked most since getting to Chicago: “Do you think Trubisky will be a positive when looking for a new coach?” My answer each time has been a definitive yes because I truly believe it will.
But I decided that, instead of leaning on my gut, to poll my two pals in the league on the question, factoring in all of the potentially-available gigs and their quarterback situation. I’ve grouped the teams into categories.
(I’ll be referring to my friends as AFC GUY & NFC GUY.)
They get their own category because think of the waters GM Chris Ballard has to navigate. When he’s looking to hire a coach in January he may not be able to tell the candidates whether Andrew Luck, their franchise quarterback, will require an additional surgery sidelining him six months or more. He won’t be able to tell the candidates if they have a franchise quarterback in 2018 or not.
NFC GUY: “Chris is going to have to sell that job. And every potential coach will want to know if they’re considering drafting a quarterback early.”
These are two jobs that, should they come open, will come open with a quarterback in-place. But…do you want them?
The Picks For Today
You’ve heard the stat all week. Connor Cook is the first quarterback to make his first start in the postseason. And he’s doing so against one of the league’s best defenses. The gambler in me is screaming, “TAKE THE TEXANS!”
But I’m not doing it. Because I don’t think Brock Osweiler is any good and this seems like the perfect stage for him to formally end his Houston career. Not saying the Raiders win the game. Saying they keep it close.
Texans 16, Raiders 13
Lions stink. And Devin Hester!
Seahawks 27, Lions 14
Football has the most schizophrenic fans in sport. The reasons why are (a) there are too few games and (b) there is too much time between them. Baseball fans get to hit the reset button every day. Basketball and hockey fans every couple of days. Soccer fans, especially European ones, never get overemotional about a result because they play a zillion matches. Football fans are only guaranteed 16 games over 17 weeks. Once the season starts, it’s almost over.
Never is that schizophrenia more on display than in the aftermath of Week One. For eight months, we wait. Postseason. Super Bowl. Free agency. Draft. Camps. Preseason. All that time, every moment, leading up to a single contest against a single opponent on a single afternoon (or night). It’s only 1/16 (6.25%) of the regular season campaign, but it just feels like so much more.
Carson Wentz is going to the Hall of Fame.
Alex Smith is the MVP.
Jimmy Garoppolo is going to fetch the Patriots eleven first-round picks.
It isn’t exciting to treat Week One with nuance, especially in Chicago. Nuance don’t get clicks in hashtag hot take culture. But the 2016 Bears require it. Yes, they lost their opener. On the road. To a non-conference opponent, a team that also happened to be one of the league’s five best defenses and a playoff team a year ago.
But anybody who expected the portrait of this young team to be fully painted on opening Sunday was nothing short of delusional. The Bears have some guarantees – Cutler, Alshon, the middle linebackers, the guards – but by conservative estimates the club started about a dozen new players on offense and defense. A dozen.
Sunday asked the questions the Bears will need to answer over the next fifteen games. They weren’t bad against the Texans. They just weren’t good enough. But unlike some of the league’s bottom feeders, the Bears believe many of the answers to those questions are actually on the roster. Kevin White and Cody Whitehair (as a center) and Leonard Floyd and HJQ won’t be judged on how they performed in Houston. They’ll be judged by how much better they are in Minnesota on New Year’s Day.
And so will the 2016 Bears. Nobody expects this team to compete for a title. And if you do, you’re just not paying attention to the rest of the league. But a fair expectation, a real expectation should be a team that improves weekly, wins games and by the end of the season makes everyone believe they are on the precipice of great things.
Yesterday the Bears led a good team, on the road, in the fourth quarter. It’s not a moral victory. It’s a sign. And the sign reads…Close.
Thursday I wrote a column and said the game would come down to protection for Jay Cutler and Houston’s wide receivers vs. the Bears secondary. The game came down to those two things. The Bears lost both battles. They lost the second half. They lost the game.