The Bears and Matt Nagy have all sorts of considerations in their regular-season finale against the Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium: staying healthy; momentum; a shot at the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye; possibly knocking the Vikings out of the playoffs and avoiding a dangerous rematch at Soldier Field.
But one concern that can’t be overlooked: Mitch Trubisky and the offense need the work.
Despite Trubisky’s 86 percent completion rate, 43-yard throw to Allen Robinson and 113.5 passer rating against the 49ers on Sunday, the Bears did not answer the question of whether this offense is playoff-ready. With this defense, Trubisky & Co. can win a postseason taffy pull. But if the defense falters, the Bears don’t look ready to win a shootout.
The offense looked like it might get there at one point this season. After a 34-22 victory against the Lions on Nov. 11 at Soldier Field, Trubisky was in a groove with 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions and a 114.8 rating in a six-game stretch. Since then, Trubisky missed two games with a sprained shoulder, and the offense hasn’t found that midseason groove. The Bears have dropped from 10th in the NFL in yards per play (5.8) to 21st (5.4).
Nagy almost certainly would be resting his starters if the Bears were locked into the No. 3 seed. But with a quarterback and an offense still in a formative stage, the regular-season finale seems like a welcome postseason tuneup. The Bears will be facing a desperate team with a playoff-caliber defense on the road and indoors. The Vikings are third in the NFL in total defense (308.2 yards per game) and fourth in defensive points allowed (18.3 per game). Since Week 5, the Vikings’ defense leads the NFL in fewest points allowed (15.0).
The potential is there. The Bears drove 75 yards and 90 yards for touchdowns against a 49ers defense that ranks 10th in yards allowed. But there’s a big step to take, especially against playoff-quality defenses. The regular-season finale against the Vikings is just what this offense needs.
2 —If the league hasn’t caught up to Nagy’s offense, it at least appears to be figuring out how to neutralize the impact of his scripted plays.
In the first four games, the Bears averaged 7.4 yards per play on their opening drive, with 18 first downs, three touchdowns and a missed field goal. In 11 games since then, the Bears are averaging 4.7 yards per play on their opening drive, with 18 first downs, one touchdown, one field goal, one missed field goal, six punts and two interceptions, including a pick-six.
3— Going into the playoffs healthy obviously is a huge factor, but there’s something to be said for going in with momentum. The last three Bears playoff teams have lost their Week 17 game.
In 2005, the Bears lost to the Vikings 34-10 at the Metrodome and fell flat in their playoff opener, losing 29-21 to the Panthers at Soldier Field.
In 2006, the Bears lost 26-7 to the Packers at Soldier Field and barely survived in their playoff opener. They needed a 49-yard field goal in overtime by Robbie Gould to beat the Seahawks en route to Super Bowl XLI.
In 2010, the Bears missed a chance to eliminate the Packers in a 10-3 loss at Lambeau Field. They coasted to a 35-24 victory over the Seahawks in their playoff opener, but that was a 7-9 Seahawks team with a minus-97 point differential, the lowest in NFL playoff history.
4 —Nagy has reversed the Bears’ fortunes in the NFC North, where they are 4-1 after going 6-24 in the five seasons since Lovie Smith was fired. But he’s also 2-0 the second time around against a division foe — beating the Lions 23-16 at Ford Field and the Packers 24-17 at Soldier Field. In the previous five seasons, the Bears were 5-10 in the first game against division opponents and 1-14 in the second game.
5 —Win or lose, the Bears could face the Vikings again in their playoff opener at Soldier Field. The last time teams played in Week 17 and the playoff opener was a similar scenario in 2012 — the Vikings beat the Packers at home to get into the playoffs, but the Packers won the playoff game at Lambeau Field.
Since the NFL went to the current playoff format in 1990, teams have played in Week 17 and the first game of the playoffs 13 times. The higher seed (and home team) is 11-2 in the playoff game.
6 —The Bears could beat the Vikings and still play them in a wild-card game (if the Rams and Redskins win), which would force them to sweep the Vikings to advance. How difficult is it to win three games against a division opponent in one season? Since 1990, 18 teams have swept the regular-season series before a playoff showdown, and 13 of them have won the playoff game.
6a —Dave Wannstedt’s finest hour as Bears coach occurred in that scenario in 1994. The Bears were swept by the Vikings in the regular season, including a 42-14 rout at Soldier Field. The Bears won the playoff game 35-18 at the Metrodome behind Steve Walsh. It’s still the last road playoff game the Bears have won.
7 —Be Careful What You Wish For Dept.: The Vikings are averaging 34 points and 379 yards and 6.3 yards per play in two games under new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. That’s up from 15.3 points, 305 yards and five yards per play in four games after the bye under John DeFilippo.
7a —Then again . . . Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, who did not play when the Bears beat the Seahawks 24-17 at Soldier Field in Week 2, is averaging 10.6 tackles in his last eight games, with six quarterback hits, a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The Bears would play the Seahawks only if they lost to the Vikings and the Seahawks lost to the Cardinals.
7b —And then again . . . The Eagles will enter the playoffs on a roll if they make it. They’ve won five of their last six, including a victory over the Rams on the road. They’re averaging 27.6 points and 387 yards in their last five games. Nick Foles has done this before. And they’re the defending Super Bowl champions.
8 —The Bears have gone from back-to-back years of nearly 20 players on injured reserve to the possibility of actually getting healthier heading into the playoffs. The football gods work in mysterious ways.
Guard Kyle Long has a real chance to return against the Vikings after missing eight games with a right foot injury suffered against the Jets.
And the Bears still hold out hope that safety Eddie Jackson and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch will play in the postseason.
A year ago at this time, the Bear had 16 players on injured reserve, including 10 starters. In Week 17 this year, they have four — Long, tight end Dion Sims, linebacker Sam Acho and nickel back Bryce Callahan.
9 —Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week Award: Colts wide receiver Dontrelle Inman caught a two-yard touchdown pass to help the Colts rally from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Giants 28-27 and keep their playoff hopes alive. Inman had four receptions for 46 yards, including a 29-yard reception on a third-and-eight play that led to another touchdown.
10 —Bear-ometer: 11-5 — at Vikings (L); Playoffs: vs. Vikings (W); at Rams (W); at Saints (L).