Let’s review some of the Bears headlines out of Chicago from earlier this season, shall we?
All of it was fair. The Bears were bad. A 5-1 start, which was propped up by some extremely close wins, was a mirage. Even if everyone outside of Illinois seemed to understand that, what happened next was surprising. The Bears went completely in the tank, losing six in a row. #FireEverybody became a thing among Bears fans. Those negative headlines stared at Chicagoans every day.
At that point, with the Bears at 5-7, the season seemed over. Only two playoff teams since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 have ever made the playoffs after a six-game losing streak. The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals started 1-0, lost six in a row, then with offensive coordinator Bill Walsh inventing the West Coast Offense out of necessity, the Bengals won their last seven. The 2014 Carolina Panthers also won a bad NFC South at 7-8-1 after losing six in a row.
And there was no reason to believe the Bears could join that group. They were broken. Everyone was wondering who their coach, general manager and quarterback would be in 2021.
Nobody would have bet on the Bears being in position to make the playoffs with a Week 17 win, but they’re in with a victory or a loss by the Cardinals. Absolutely nobody predicted Mitchell Trubisky would be leading the way.
Chicago won three in a row. The Bears have scored 30 or more points in four straight games, the first time since 1965 they have done that. Beating the Texans, Vikings and Jaguars isn’t a reason for a parade, but the Bears are alive and well in the playoff race with one game to go. That alone is an accomplishment.
Trubisky has been perhaps the biggest reason for the surge, which adds the craziest layer on to this weird Bears season. He played well in the second half of a blowout against the Packers, and that carried over into the next four weeks. Over the past month Trubisky has completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 1,001 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s a 108.5 rating. He also has 73 rushing yards. He looks like a completely different quarterback, albeit against some bad defenses. The fact that he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season makes it even more complicated.
He has been helped tremendously by running back David Montgomery, who was mediocre for practically his entire career before posting what are probably his five best NFL games over the past five weeks. His streak of 100-yard games was out of nowhere, much like the Bears as a whole.
The Bears play the Green Bay Packers on Sunday while the Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams. The Cardinals piece might be easier. The Packers will be going all out for the No. 1 seed; they aren’t sitting anyone with that on the line.
Wouldn’t it be fitting if the unpredictable Bears beat the best team in the NFC, probably knocking the Packers out of the top seed, to clinch a playoff spot? It’s not like anything else about the 2020 Bears has made any sense.
Here are the NFL power rankings after Week 16:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14, Last Week: 31)
Every one of the past 14 losses will be OK when Roger Goodell goes to the podium in April and announces the Jaguars have picked Trevor Lawrence. Maybe Lawrence doesn’t work out because no prospect is a sure thing, but if there was a prospect worth suffering through a one-win season for, he’s it.
31. New York Jets (2-13, LW: 32)
A lot is made about the Jets losing out on Trevor Lawrence, and from an organizational standpoint that’s all true. Winning the past two games could end up being crushing for the Jets. But give the players and coaches credit. They don’t care about Lawrence, and they ended up taking themselves off the list of worst teams ever. They’re not even the worst team of 2020.
30. Detroit Lions (5-10, LW: 28)
It is very, very rare to watch an NFL game and legitimately feel like one team could win by 70 or more if it had a grudge and wanted to run it up. The Patriots had a game like that against the Titans in the snow in 2009 when they led 45-0 at the half. There was a 2014 game in which the Packers led Chicago 42-0 at the half. The Jaguars’ playoff blowout of the Dolphins in Dan Marino’s last game comes to mind … it’s a short list. The Buccaneers’ win over the Lions felt that way. The Bucs could do anything they wanted. There were excuses for the performance, particularly that the Lions had most of their coaching staff out due to COVID-19 protocols, but it was still an embarrassment.
29. Houston Texans (4-11, LW: 25)
David Johnson had 128 rushing yards and two total touchdowns on Sunday. It’s unfortunate that he’ll be known as a player who had one unbelievable year and then was the guy Houston got for DeAndre Hopkins. He still has talent and maybe if he can stay healthy he can have another nice season, whether it’s in Houston or elsewhere.
28. Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1, LW: 30)
The Bengals have won two straight, which is very nice for the end of a rough season. A win over Baltimore, wrecking the Ravens’ playoff hopes, would be even better.
27. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1, LW: 22)
The Eagles are in a weird spot with Doug Pederson, who said he’s confident he’ll be back in 2021. The Eagles made the playoffs three times in a row before this season. They won a Super Bowl with Pederson. There are injuries to consider when it comes to evaluating this horrible year. It’s also fair to wonder if Pederson is the right guy for the job. The Eagles have underachieved for a couple seasons and looked awful most of 2020. I assume Pederson is right and he’ll be back, but I’m not sure that’s the right decision either.
26. Washington Football Team (6-9, LW: 20)
Cutting Dwayne Haskins was shocking, but it had to happen. The team’s biggest regret should be giving Haskins a pass last week because it felt it needed him in a big game Sunday. The entire situation is a mess, and yet another reason why the team is probably never going to win with Daniel Snyder owning the franchise. It has been widely reported Haskins was a Snyder pick. It should be no surprise it didn’t turn out well.
25. Carolina Panthers (5-10, LW: 29)
The Panthers finally figured out how to use Curtis Samuel. He has had a nice season, and put up 106 yards receiving and 52 yards rushing in Sunday’s win. The only problem is the long-awaited emergence comes right before Samuel hits free agency.
24. Atlanta Falcons (4-11, LW: 27)
I don’t know how Atlanta should feel about what happened Sunday. They took a fantastic Chiefs team down to the wire. They led with less than two minutes to go. At the end of a rough season, the Falcons should feel good about that. But really it was another crushing loss, this one on a field-goal attempt that sailed wide right in the final seconds. It’s hard to be happy after a loss in the NFL.
23. New York Giants (5-10, LW: 20)
The Giants are still alive and would be the first 10-loss playoff team in NFL history. That’s the nicest thing that can be said about them right now.
22. Denver Broncos (5-10, LW: 23)
Jerry Jeudy had a horrible Sunday. The first-round pick had five drops including one in the end zone. That doesn’t mean he’s a bust. This happens to a lot of receivers who go on to have great careers. It was just a really bad day.
21. Dallas Cowboys (6-9, LW: 26)
We’re going to see a lot of crazy stuff in Week 17. Maybe the craziest subplot of all is that the Cowboys are still alive for a playoff berth. If Dallas beats a slumping Giants team and Washington loses to Philadelphia, Dallas is in. That doesn’t make sense, considering how bad the Cowboys are.
20. New England Patriots (6-9, LW: 19)
Cam Newton has started 14 games. He has 2,415 passing yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This is one of the worst passing seasons we’ve seen in a long time, and sad to see from a player who has been so enjoyable to watch. The real mystery is why the Patriots have started him all season. He is still a good runner but you need more than that in today’s NFL, and Newton hasn’t had it all year.
19. San Francisco 49ers (6-9, LW: 24)
Again, why did Kyle Shanahan stick with Nick Mullens at quarterback for so long? Not that C.J. Beathard was amazing in Week 16, but he was solid and better than Mullens, who Shanahan refused to bench long after it was clear he was not the answer.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (7-8, LW: 17)
Jon Gruden and the Raiders turned down a touchdown on Saturday night, which would have forced Miami to answer with a touchdown of its own. We know what happened next. Here’s Gruden’s explanation for why he settled for a field goal and taking time off the clock rather than just score a touchdown:
“We played it exactly like we wanted to play it,” Gruden said, via NBC Bay Area. “It was a heck of a job by our offense closing the deal, I thought. But unfortunately, they made a desperation play and the penalty was horrific.”
It’s true that Miami needed something crazy to happen. For Raiders fans who have watched their team fall apart late in the season again under Gruden’s watch, some accountability might be nice.
17. Minnesota Vikings (6-9, LW: 16)
The Vikings’ defense should be embarrassed by what happened at New Orleans. The 583 yards allowed is a franchise record and the 52 points allowed is the most by a Vikings defense since 1963. There have been many injuries on defense but that’s still awful. Presumably Mike Zimmer will be back for 2021, but depending on what happens around the rest of the league, he might be the coach on the hottest seat entering next season.
16. Los Angeles Chargers (6-9, LW: 18)
Could a three-game winning streak mean Anthony Lynn keeps his job? NFL teams shouldn’t think that way, especially since all three wins came by three points each, but team owners often make illogical decisions. If the Chargers beat a Chiefs team that will be resting starters, you could see a poorly run Chargers franchise talking itself into Lynn maybe coming back for another year.
15. Arizona Cardinals (8-7, LW: 14)
Kliff Kingsbury said he’s hopeful Kyler Murray can play in Week 17. The QB hurt his leg late in a bad loss to the 49ers. If Murray can’t go, Kingsbury said Chris Streveler is the backup ahead of Brett Hundley. Streveler has never thrown an NFL pass. At least the Rams have a quarterback issue too.
14. Chicago Bears (8-7, LW: 15)
It is hard to gauge how good the Bears are right now. Their last win against a team that currently has a winning record was in Week 5 over Tampa Bay. That’s their only win over a good team all season. It’s OK to be excited about this late run, but also worried that the Bears are just catching a soft part of the schedule and this good finish will lead to false hope. It could mean another season for GM Ryan Pace, coach Matt Nagy and another deal for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Depending on how you feel about the long-term direction of the Bears, that might not be a good thing.
13. Los Angeles Rams (9-6, LW: 12)
Jared Goff will be out for Week 17 after thumb surgery, which means John Wolford — who made his name in the AAF and has never taken an NFL snap — will be starting to try to get the Rams in the playoffs. The Rams have nobody to blame but themselves for not clinching a spot before now. They had their chances.
12. Miami Dolphins (10-5, LW: 13)
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass while getting his head turned around by a face-mask grab is one of the wildest plays you’ll see. The fact that it could be the reason the Dolphins make the playoff makes it potentially legendary.
11. Cleveland Browns (10-5, LW: 9)
The Browns were a practical lock to make the playoffs before news Saturday that their entire receiving corps would be out due to COVID-19 protocols. The Browns lost to the Jets and still haven’t clinched a playoff spot. If the Browns miss out on the playoffs it will be the cruelest blow to a fan base that deserves a break.
10. Indianapolis Colts (10-5, LW: 5)
Blowing a 24-7 lead against Pittsburgh puts the Colts in a rough position. If the Ravens, Dolphins and Browns win, the Colts could become the third 11-win team in NFL history to miss the playoffs — and do that despite an expanded playoff field. The Colts are a very good team, and it would be shocking if they’re on the outside looking in.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-5, LW: 11)
Devin White has become one of the NFL’s best defensive players. He has played every snap on defense this season. He has nine sacks. His 140 tackles are tied for fourth in the league. He was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs this season.
8. Baltimore Ravens (10-5, LW: 10)
The Ravens caught the break they needed when the Steelers came back to beat the Colts. Now all the Ravens have to do is beat the Bengals and they’re in the playoffs. And the way they’re playing lately, nobody will want to face them.
7. Tennessee Titans (10-5, LW: 6)
Tennessee struggled in the cold and snow on Sunday night with a chance to clinch the division, but they should be OK. It just needs to beat the 4-11 Texans to win the division. If the Titans can’t beat Houston, they don’t deserve the division title anyway.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3, LW: 7)
The Steelers were never as bad as you heard during their losing streak. Coming back to beat a very good Colts team was impressive. The Steelers will go as far as Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow will allow. If he can throw it like he did Sunday, they’re still dangerous.
5. Seattle Seahawks (11-4, LW: 8)
If the Seahawks could match their offense from the first half of the season with the defense from the second half, you’d have perhaps the best team in the NFL. And it’s still possible. Seattle has improved a ton on defense. Seattle hasn’t given up more than 17 points in five straight games. If Russell Wilson gets hot again and the defensive improvement sticks, Seattle can win a Super Bowl.
4. New Orleans Saints (11-4, LW: 4)
Records matter. History matters. Alvin Kamara should have had seven touchdowns last week. Nobody in NFL history has ever done that. Instead, Sean Payton made the weird decision to get Taysom Hill a 1-yard touchdown late in the game. It’s not like the Vikings were stopping Kamara or anyone else. Kamara should have gotten that moment, and all football fans should have had the chance to witness it.
3. Green Bay Packers (12-3, LW: 3)
Davante Adams is making a case for NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Unlike MVP, receivers have a chance for that award. Adams has a 109-1,328-17 line and missed two games. Aaron Rodgers has been great, but having Adams on his side has certainly helped.
2. Buffalo Bills (12-3, LW: 2)
Anyone else getting excited for a Bills-Chiefs AFC championship game? That could be a lot of fun.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (14-1, LW: 1)
Andy Reid is saying he’ll rest starters in Week 17. It’s a tough balancing act. If the Chiefs don’t play anyone, that will mean 19 or 20 days without playing a game once you account for the bye. You don’t want a 14-1 team to lose all of its momentum.
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