This is less a gambling guide, and more an overview of the weekend’s action with predictions. But my gambling choices are evident in my final score prognostications. (All lines from DraftKings Sportsbook.)
Why do I Like the Chicago Bears this Week?
With Justin Fields, who accounts for about 90% of the offense, not playing, and Nathan Peterman, one of the worst starting quarterbacks in modern NFL history, playing, the Vikings will have their starters on the bench by early third quarter.
Vikings 33, Bears 9
Houston is simply playing better football, week in and week out. And while folks will argue they have no impetus to win this game and fall out of the first pick, the Deshaun Watson trade gave them more than enough ammunition to ensure they come out of the 2023 draft with whomever they deem their top prospect.
Texans 19, Colts 13
And with this prediction, the Chicago Bears will secure the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
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.
Four Things I Think Will Happen:
Minnesota Vikings 27, Chicago Bears 13
You see them sprouting up across the internet.
“Five Things the Bears Can Learn from Their Game with the Giants.”
“Which Bears Have Something to Prove Sunday?”
“Why Bears vs. Vikings Matters.”
There is nothing to learn.
Nobody is proving anything.
It doesn’t matter.
These are the sad facts of playing out the string, down the stretch of an NFL season, especially when there’s major organizational change coming in the off-season. It was nice to see the Bears put on a fun show for their fans Sunday at Soldier Field, harassing a Giants offense that would politely be described as sub-professional. Matt Nagy’s team has not quit, and the schedule has presented them with some beatable opponents, keeping the season from being an embarrassment.
But while we all want to find value in each of the 17 games we are given to watch each year, the truth is there’s little to be found in these contests. And there is a certain disingenuousness to writing about them with any level of seriousness. (Star Trib columnist Jim Souhan actually used a game quarterbacked by Sean Mannion as “final proof” that Mike Zimmer should be fired in Minnesota.) There is rarely any correlation between how a team finishes one season and how they begin the next one. There are simply too many variables, too much turnover.
And a week from today, Monday January 10th, a new era will begin for the Chicago Bears. Coach Nagy will be fired; a very good man who just never developed into a very good coach. GM Ryan Pace likely will too; a solid talent evaluator paying the price for whiffing on his two most important decisions. All focus will shift to finding their replacements. The final games of this season will be completely forgotten.