The Chicago Bears won the NFC North Division title for the first time in eight years following a 24-17 win over the Green Bay Packers. With two games left this season, the team has only playoff seeding left to play for. Head coach Matt Nagy will face the tough decision of determining how long and how hard he wants his starters to play in the last two weeks of the season.
Chicago currently is the third seed in the NFC playoff standings as they are just one game behind the Los Angeles Rams for the second seed. If the Bears were to jump ahead of the Rams, they would get a bye week during Wild Card round and have a home game in the Divisional round of the playoffs. If they stay at the third seed, the Bears will have to play a wild card game, but will have a home game against the sixth seed.
The Bears will be on the road for their final two games of the season as they will travel out to San Francisco to play the 49ers before ending their season in Minnesota against the Vikings. The 49ers have little to play for, but the Vikings could be fighting to secure the final playoff spot in the NFC on December 30th when they play the Bears.
Although seeding is at stake, an injury to a starter resulting in missing a playoff game could be even more costly. In the past few seasons alone, injuries to key players in the last two weeks of the season have ruined teams’ playoff chances.
Back in 2016, the Oakland Raiders clinched their first playoff birth since 2002 in week 15. With nothing left to play for the last two weeks, starting quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in week 16 and was lost for the remainder of the year.
The Raiders with Carr were predicted for a deep playoff run and were even favored to make it to the AFC Championship game. In the Wild Card round against the Houston Texans, they were eliminated losing 27-14 behind backup quarterback Connor Cook.
An injury to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky or to linebacker Khalil Mack would be devastating in the last two weeks of the season. Given Nagy’s previous history coaching with the Kansas City Chiefs, there is some insight to what his possible plans might be.
Nagy was the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs at season’s end last year when the team played the Broncos in their season finale.
Head coach Andy Reid chose to rest his starters with nothing to play for as Patrick Mahomes made his first NFL start in a 27-24 win. Nagy was the quarterbacks coach when Reid did the same thing in 2014 sitting quarterback Alex Smith in the 2014 season finale for Chase Daniel with the team out of playoff contention.
The Rams next two opponents will be the Arizona Cardinals and the 49ers. In week two earlier this season, Los Angeles defeated Arizona 34-0 and could be looking to bounce back in week 16 as they have lost their last two games on national TV.
Nagy will most likely have his starters play the full game, if it is close, against the 49ers. he will take no risk with anyone that is injured or sit anyone who develops even the smallest injury during the game.
In the final week of the season, the Bears head coach will most likely rest his starters using the game as a bye and letting his reserves play. Although they will still have a chance at the second seed, it will be unlikely that the Rams will lose to the 49ers.
Futhermore, Chicago could trust their backups to try and beat the Vikings as Daniel has started two games at quarterback already this season.
If the Vikings can clinch the final playoff spot, they would play the Bears back to back weeks. Chicago could use this to their advantage as the Vikings starters would have to play hard back to back games while the Bears can rest their starters in the first game and be rested for the second game. It would also allow for the Bears to game plan easier given the circumstances.
If the Bears decided to play their starters in the final week, it could expose their game plan and put their players at risk of injury for a matchup the following week. Nagy’s been safe when it has come to being precautious with injuries this season, it is highly unlikely he would expose any of his starters. Mack, Trubisky, and Allen Robinson each missed two games this season due to injuries. Although the injuries were not serious, the Bears were careful choosing to rest their players given that they were injuries they could have played through.
With two weeks left to go, the most important thing to the Bears is health. They could fight to try and get the number two seed, but have no control over the outcome.
A divisional home game would mean little if a key starter were to be sidelined due to an injury suffered in the final two games. Nagy has to weigh that decision as his final choice could impact the team’s playoff outcome even before they take the field in January.