When the Bears were winning in 2018, the “p-word” was off limits.
“You’ll never hear the word ‘playoffs’ from me,” Matt Nagy said on Nov. 5, 2018 when his team was 5-3.
Well, times have changed. And so have the motivation tactics.
Sitting at 6-7 this season, the Bears’ playoff chances are at just 14 percent, according to NBC’s Steve Kornacki. And with a de facto elimination game against the 6-7 Minnesota Vikings looming, Nagy is now openly talking about the playoffs.
“This year? You’re right. I did bring it up,” Nagy admitted Wednesday. “And I have talked to the team about that because I do know what we have sitting in front of us. We have some major things to accomplish right now and that’s to make sure we win this division game against Minnesota.”
Nagy’s harshest critics might focus on the hypocrisy of his playoff talk, but the two situations are pretty different. In 2018, he was a first-year head coach with a team that was 5-3. They were only halfway through the season and the Bears hadn’t been to the playoffs in eight years. As a coach, he was still in “1-0” mode.
“We’re worried about Week 9. That's it,” Nagy said in 2018. “We worry about playoffs, then we're worrying about the wrong thing. We have a lot of season left.”
In the present, Sunday’s game in Minneapolis is basically a playoff game. The loser’s playoff chances will be on life support.
“I think every year is a little different,” Nagy said Wednesday. “You might be referring some of that back to our first year when we were winning a lot and we were in a good place and our guys -- coaches and players -- it was a little while since we experienced that. So we were in a good place. I felt like at that point in time, let’s focus on what we’ve got in front of us and that’s playing one game at a time. And not even talking about the playoffs.”
As for 2020, Nagy explained:
“I feel like right now that (we’ve been) together longer. We kind of know how each person works. They know how I coach. I know how they play. So also there’s that real part of why we’re playing. We put ourselves in that position right now to where you have to be honest with your players as to what’s realistic. Obviously winning the division is no longer realistic. But we want to do everything we can to be able to get into those extra games and in the playoffs.”
So what is realistic? Well, a very meaningful Week 17 game against the Packers is very realistic if the Bears can beat the Vikings Sunday.
First, the Bears can thank the owners and NFLPA for adding a seventh playoff team in both conferences. Without that, they would be two games behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) with three games to go. Instead, they’re one game behind the Arizona Cardinals (7-6) with two games to go and should hold the tiebreaker if they can narrow the gap.
The remaining schedules for the Cardinals, Vikings and Bears look like this:
Arizona Cardinals (7-6)vs Eagles (4-8-1)vs 49ers (5-8)at Rams (9-4)
Minnesota Vikings (6-7)vs Bears (6-7)at Saints (10-3)at Lions (5-8)
Chicago Bears (6-7)at Vikings (6-7)at Jaguars (1-12)vs Packers (10-3)
If we’re talking about what’s “realistic,” then it’s probably best to examine this situation under the assumption that both the Cardinals and Bears win their next two games. With the Eagles now starting Jalen Hurts at quarterback, it’s possible the Cardinals could lose to Philadelphia Sunday, but right now Arizona is a 6-point favorite.
The good news is that if the Bears are able make up a game on the Cardinals, Chicago would likely hold the tiebreaker. Since the two teams didn’t play head-to-head this season, the next tiebreaker is conference record. As it stands, it’s impossible for the Bears to have a worse conference record in any scenario in which the teams are tied in the standings. Most likely, the conference records would be identical. That brings us to the next tiebreaker, which is record in common games. The Bears’ record in those games is 3-2 and won’t change. The Cardinals’ record will be 1-4 or 2-3 depending on what they do against the Rams in Week 17. Either way, the Bears win that tiebreaker.
So what does that mean? It means that if both teams win their next two games, the Bears would still be alive going into their Week 17 game against the Packers.
And this is where we get to the part where Bears fans are going to want to root for Green Bay the next two weeks – as hard as that might be.
The Packers (10-3) hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the 10-3 Saints for the No. 1 seed and it’s possible they’ll have the top seed locked up prior to Week 17. If the Packers win their next two games against the Panthers and Titans at home and the Saints lose to either the Chiefs or Vikings at home, Aaron Rodgers could be glued to the bench at Soldier Field.
On the other hand, the Bears could still be relying on a Cardinals loss in Week 17 and it’s not out of the question for the Rams to be locked into the No. 2 or 3 seed, especially if they beat the Seahawks in Week 16. That means the Rams could be sitting their starters against the Cardinals on the same day the Packers could be sitting their starters against the Bears.
There’s a lot to be determined over the next few weeks, but to put it simply: if the Bears beat the Vikings Sunday, there’s a very good chance the Week 17 game against the Packers is going to be meaningful.
So go ahead and use the p-word. And root for the Packers too. It’s 2020. Anything goes.
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