Next 3 games will tell you everything you need to know about Matt Nagy’s Bears
“We’ve already played some pretty good teams,” Nagy said. No, the Bears haven’t. But they’re about to. Their ability (or inability) to compete with the Rams, Saints and Titans will tell a lot about where they’re headed this season.
Bears coach Matt Nagy has earnestly tried to tilt the discussion from winning ugly to just winning over the last week or so. The same coach who shredded his team after its most impressive victory, 20-19 over the first-place Buccaneers, is rallying his players against the incessant nitpicking of their 5-1 start.
“You’ve been seeing it all over the internet,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “We are the most talked-about 5-1 team. I don’t think that people truly give us our respect, man.
“You’re taught not to pay attention to those things and obviously we don’t care, but we hear it. At the end of the day, man, five wins is five wins.”
Hey, 5-1 is a nice record. And if the season ended today, the Bears would be NFC North champions and the top seed in the conference. But the season does not end today, and that 5-1 start won’t mean anything if they endure another midseason collapse.
The purpose in criticizing the Bears even as they win — something their coaches are doing internally — is to ascertain whether this is sustainable. In a league in which the other 31 teams average 25.5 points per game, can the Bears keep getting by on 21.3?
Will quarterback Nick Foles — fifth from the bottom in passer rating, second-to-last in yards per attempt — be enough when they run up against Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees?
They could always try running the ball, but Nagy already seems done with that after averaging 2.3 yards per carry the last three weeks.
If only there were a way to settle this -debate between Nagy and the media over what this 5-1 record really means. Enter the Rams, Saints and Titans.
Those are the Bears’ next three opponents, beginning with the 4-2 Rams on Monday. The Bears host the 4-2 Saints on Sunday and visit the 5-1 Titans on Nov. 8.
“We’ve already played some pretty good teams,” Nagy said inaccurately of a collection of opponents that is 13-21. “Whoever they put in front of us, we don’t care what their record is.”
If the Bears are as sturdy as they want everyone to believe they are, they won’t get steamrolled in any of those games. A good team would win at least one and be competitive in the others. And if the Bears do that, coming out at 6-3 or better and looking viable overall, it’ll boost the public’s confidence going into the homestretch.
But if these much better foes exploit the flaws that nearly doomed the Bears against lightweights such as the Lions, Falcons, Giants and Panthers, the ship could sink. Over the last 30 seasons, teams that started 5-1 made the playoffs 83% of the time.
The 2012 Bears, who opened 7-1 then went 3-5 in the second half, were one of those unfortunate teams in the 17%. They would’ve gotten in under the new 14-team playoff field.
At 5-4, the historical likelihood of making the playoffs plunges to 47%.
It’s going to be a lot tougher for Nagy to defend himself and his team if less than a month from now the Bears are clawing to stay above .500. There are still enough floundering teams toward the end of their schedule — the Lions, Texans, Jaguars and Vikings (twice) — for the Bears to sneak into the playoffs even if they never play any -better than they’re playing now.
And if they meander into the playoffs, this argument will resurface. The media and -public will question whether that kind of team is capable of making any postseason noise, and Nagy will echo his rebuttal that style points are irrelevant.
Or the Bears could end that conversation altogether over the next three weeks.