By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Regular season finales in the NFL bring with them a wide range of emotions, especially when the playoff element is added in.
Dating back to 2016, four times have the Chicago Bears have been scheduled to play the Minnesota Vikings for the regular season finale, the fourth time coming this Sunday at noon. Only in last year’s Bears-Vikings final have the Bears been alive for the playoffs in this game. A lot of disappointment has surrounded this franchise for quite some time now.
On the other side, the Vikings have already clinched a playoff birth, something they’ve done three out of the last five years.
This Vikings team could be a model for the Bears to regain the success they had in 2018. Last year the Vikings needed a win to qualify for the playoffs but ended up getting blown out by the Bears in Week 17. That season established itself as a disappointing year for the Vikings after reaching the NFC Championship in 2017 and signing quarterback Kirk Cousins in the previous off-season.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer vowed to fix the offensive and defensive issues that plagued his team and they certainly achieved that goal this year. This Vikings squad is dangerous heading into the playoffs and will be a tough out for any team they face. Many questions face the Bears after Sunday’s game, all focus will be on what kind of drastic improvements the team can make.
So, for one last time this season, here are the four goals for the Bears to win and finish this season with the pride of an 8-8 team.
Show Some Fight — Last Sunday against Kansas City was a total dismantling as far as the Bears are concerned. It was surprising on one level, but also not surprising, given how poorly things have gone and that it was the team’s first game after being eliminated from the playoffs.
This is a meaningless game for the Bears, so if any players checked out last week then it could be another tough day. Unlike last week’s opponent, this Vikings team has nothing to play for at the moment.
No matter what happens the Vikings will be a NFC wildcard playoff team. It is likely (actual now – ed.) that lots of the main players for the Vikings will get most of, if not the whole day off. The Bears have no real reason to sit any players other than to secure their health for next season. Most of the healthy Bears will play in this one, going up against a lot of backups for the Vikings.
If this Bears team comes out and fights then they can win this game no problem. So simply put the goal here is to show up and fight because that in itself might be enough for a win.
Last Chance for Redemption? — The title here might be a little sarcastic because redemption is something that’s beyond quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this season. No matter what happens in this game, most Chicago fans are going to be calling for a new quarterback for months to come.
In all likelihood, the Bears are going to bring back Trubisky and plan on him being the starter for the 2020 season. If this assumption is correct then the Bears will have to do a much better job of putting him in a position to succeed. What the Bears should honestly do is look at the Ravens and the type of scheme change they made for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The brilliant scheme shift by the Ravens has transformed them into the current Super Bowl favorites in the AFC. Getting Trubisky to fit any NFL scheme is a mistake, he has a specific set of skills that needs to be enhanced in an offence built specifically for him. In Sunday’s game, Trubisky has one last performance for his team and its fans to digest.
Its hard to change a season’s worth of perspective in one game, but Trubisky has to realize his opportunities to impress are starting to run out. Time is ticking quickly for the young quarterback — the goal for him is to put up a good performance and get as much confidence as possible surrounding himself heading into the off-season.
Be Smart — In a meaningless game, the last thing any team would want are negative repercussions. No Bears player has played well enough this year that they deserve to sit out of this game, but even some of Chicago’s coaches have to be thinking about resting some key guys in order to reduce the chances of a significant, 2020-altering injury.
The last thing the Bears can afford is to lose guys like wide receiver Allen Robinson and edge rusher Khalil Mack for any part next season because of an injury in this game. What would be ideal is having as many of the younger guys playing as possible, proving themselves and providing more action on tape for the team to deliberate over.
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An obvious advantage to playing young guys is evaluation, but another benefit is that veterans are getting rest. Head coach Matt Nagy has to really be in charge or have a good plan in place this week to manage various game situations that could arise.
If by chance there is a blowout for or against the Bears then get key players out of the game immediately. That has to be Nagy’s mindset going into this game, the goal here is to leave Minnesota as healthy as possible.
Turn Lemons Into Lemonade — Yes, these final 60 minutes are going to be nothing except sour, but the Bears have an opportunity here to not finish with a losing record.
No parades at Grant Park will be held for an 8-8 squad, but that doesn’t mean its not important to reach that mark. Winning in the face of adversity is always a good thing and its especially promising in football. Nothing brings a team closer or help players improve more than winning.
This game will showcase a lot of young and inexperienced players on both sides, both teams can do some good evaluating of their middle or bottom half of the roster at a minimum. The Bears need to improve their competition at basically each position. There has to be more guys like inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who has been a very valuable player this season just by staying ready and pushing the guys in front of him.
Too many times this year the Bears came up short as a team which means they got a lot to fix ahead of them. Anything this week that could help the evaluation of the roster and get a head start on the off-season (and the 2020 season) is critical and welcomed.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR