The Chicago Bears will find themselves in a unique situation in their regular season finale on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. They will have an opportunity to eliminate their divisional foe with a win and possible clinch the second seed in the NFC Playoffs earning a bye week. All is for naught if the Los Angeles Rams win as Bears head coach Matt Nagy will have multiple decisions to make during the game.
Both the Rams and Bears will be playing their games at 3:25 pm on Sunday, but also will be keeping an eye on one another’s game also.
Los Angeles controls their destiny, but what Chicago does in their game against Minnesota will be contingent with what happens with the Los Angeles. The Rams will be playing the 49ers.
Nagy is prepared to play his starters and go for the win which would at the very least knock the Vikings out of the playoffs. It would bring the Philadelphia Eagles to Chicago the following week for a Wildcard Weekend game if they were to beat the Washington Redskins. A Vikings and Rams win would mean that the Bears and Vikings would force a third game next weekend.
It is likely that if at any moment that the Rams have a commanding lead over the San Francisco 49ers that they would immediately pull their starters. The problem could be that Los Angeles never get control of the game until the very end, forcing the Chicago players to play the full game against a team they could play the following week.
The next decision Nagy must make is how much of a gameplan he wants to show against a team that he could face the following week again. Minnesota will be playing for their season and will rely on their best game plan to ensure a playoff-clinching win. If Nagy finds himself in a situation during the game where he needs one of his go-to plays, does he call a different play avoiding exposure?
In 2010, the Bears found themselves in a similar situation in their season finale in Green Bay against the Packers. They had already locked up the number two seed and had nothing to play for other than to eliminate their division rivals from playoff contention.
The team’s goal was to build a lead with their starters to later pull them and rely on the substitutes to seal the victory. Chicago never took a commanding lead as the game remained tied at three into the fourth quarter. Chicago’s offense struggle as the game progressed as they did not have a true gameplan not expecting to play deep into the game. The Packers won the game and three weeks later defeated the Bears in the NFC Championship game to go to the Super Bowl.
Nagy could find himself in a very similar situation on Sunday depending on what goes on with the Rams. For example, if the Rams were to take a 17- point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bears have a seven-point lead late against the Vikings in their game, Does Nagy pull his starting defense? It will be very intriguing if to see if the Bears head coach can avoid getting caught up in the game and forgetting the bigger ramifications.
Would it be beneficial to Nagy to risk injury to win the game to eliminate a third game between the two and face the Eagles for the first time? Beating a team three times in one season is a tough task, the 1994 Minnesota Vikings beat the Bears twice before losing at home in the playoffs 35-18 in the two teams’ third game.
Chicago could also be in a situation where the Rams take a huge lead early against the 49ers, but the game becomes close late in the game. Nagy seeing the early lead pulls his starters conceding the game to Vikings, but the game remains close towards the end. Would he put his starters back in, increasing the chance of injury due sitting to win the game or remain with his backups and rely on them to win?
Sunday’s slate of late-afternoon games will be as entertaining as ever.
There will be more late-afternoon games than early games which may be the first time that has ever happened. It’s unfortunate for the Bears as they will be focusing on two games instead of one. It will be up to Nagy to make the right choice for his team not just for the outcome of the game, but for their playoff options also.