First and Final Thoughts: Surely the Bears can score against Washington's defense, right?

First and Final Thoughts: Surely the Bears can score against Washington's defense, right?

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on Week 2

J.J. Stankevitz: It’s absolutely amazing how close the Bears were to 0-2. Like, hundredths of a second close. This can be a win that propels the Bears back into being the NFC North contenders we thought they were before the season...or it can be a sign of a tough season ahead. I still think it’s more likely than not that the Bears are a good team, and good teams can struggle to recover from starting 0-2. But 1-1 still keeps everything on the table for the Bears in 2019, even if the first two weeks weren’t pretty. The first three weeks of 2018 were overall meh and last year’s team turned out more than fine. So long story short: Just winning in Denver is all that matters in the big picture. 

Cam Ellis: It wasn't pretty, but it feels like people are understating how impressive the Bears' win was. Playing at that altitude, with temperatures around 90 degrees, is no joke. Danny Trevathan talked about how the thin air led to struggles with dry mouth, which made it tough to get calls out late in the game. Leonard Floyd dealt with it for most of the first half, and Roquan Smith slept a couple of extra hours on Monday morning. (Eddie Goldman didn't feel it at all, so shout out to him.) It's a real home-field advantage, at least in the eyes of those on the field. So many negative aspects of the Bears' season has dominated the discussion through the first two weeks, so it's worth giving the good its due. 

First Thoughts on Week 3

Stankevitz: Washington might not be as bad as folks seem to assume - they’re 15th in DVOA, only two spots behind the Bears. It’s early in the season, of course, and the Bears have a better roster. But Case Keenum and Terry McLaurin aren’t to be taken lightly, even by a defense as good as the Bears (Washington’s offense is 5th in DVOA). 

Worth noting, though: Washington’s defense is not good. They’re 28th in DVOA and were picked apart by two, admittedly, good offenses in Dallas and Philadelphia. So Monday night will be an important referendum on the Bears’ offense — if they can’t get at least 20 points on Washington’s defense, the alarm bells going off around Chicago will only grow louder. 

Ellis: The 'Skins are 2-15 on Monday Night Football since 2008. 2-15! It's as good a chance as any for Trubisky and Co. to flash signs of life, especially if Jonathan Allen isn't playing. Teams get desperate at 0-2, but the whole point of 'Nagy 202' was that the Bears were going to become the type of team that could go on the road and put away inferior teams comfortably. Nuance will be hard to come by on Tuesday morning if the offense lays another egg, but September has become such a segmented part of the NFL season that a third straight dud still wouldn't be a crisis. Still – you can tell that continually having to answer questions about 10's shortcomings is wearing Nagy thin. 

Bears to activate Akeim Hicks off IR on Saturday


Bears to activate Akeim Hicks off IR on Saturday

The return of Akiem Hicks is upon us.

In a widely expected the move, the Bears will activate Hicks off injured reserve on Saturday, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Hicks will be eligible to play Sunday against the Packers.

Hicks suffered a dislocated elbow in Week 5 against the Raiders. He hit IR on Oct. 15, where players are required to spend a minimum of eight weeks before returning, per NFL rules.

The Bears defense hasn't been the same with Hicks out, and during his absence, linebackers Danny Trevathan (elbow) and Roquan Smith (torn pec) have both gone down with injuries.

Simply put, Hicks is a much-welcomed return for the Bears.

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Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

Three keys and a prediction: Bears at Packers

1. Don’t let Aaron Rodgers beat you. Really! 
You’d think this goes without saying, and yet here we are, going and saying it. There’s some truth to the counter-argument, I guess: Rodgers hasn’t thrown for more than 243 yards since mid-October, and over the last 2-3 years, his QBR has leveled out well below where it was when he was tearing the souls from every other NFL team’s body. It helps when you have Aaron Jones and the 4th-ranked (DVOA) rushing attack, but I just find it hard to believe any Bears fan can look at this game and think they have a better chance to win if they let Rodgers throw the ball 40+ times. Over his career, he’s averaged more yards per game, and has more touchdown passes, against the Bears than any other NFC North opponent. Getting Akiem Hicks back, even in a limited fashion, obviously helps on both fronts. If the Bears are going to be comfortable putting the ball in someone’s hands and hoping they don’t beat them, maybe don’t make it the first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback who has a history of humiliating your franchise? 

2. Give the ball to David Montgomery and let him cook. 
Montgomery’s finding a groove, evident by the fact that he’s been given more rushes and gained more yards in each of the Bears’ last three wins. I’ve probably hammered this point a half dozen times already this season, but the Bears are 7-2 when they run the ball 20+ times. 7-2! And they’d be 8-1 if Eddy Pineiro hit the game-winning field goal against the Chargers. And while you could probably find one or two moments in most NFL games that swing the outcome, the bigger point remains: the Bears’ run game isn’t pretty, but they win when they commit. It’s also going to be like, four degrees out and the Packers’ have the 26th-ranked run defense (DVOA) in football. Run the ball! 

3. It’s just a football field – treat it like that. 
The Bears talked at length this week about how the spectacle of Week 1’s Bears-Packers game kind of got to them, and that they were disappointed with how players and coaches seemed shell-shocked for much of it. Now think back to Week 1 of 2018, when the Bears let a big halftime lead slip away. Since then, Nagy’s admitted that the moment may have been a little big for him that night, too. And frankly, there’s so much noise and so many narrative retreads during Packers Week, so it’s not exactly hard to blame them. It’s a lot easier said behind a keyboard than done on a (cold, so damn cold) field, but if the Bears want to find themselves in bigger moments down the road, they’ll need to minimize the one coming on Sunday. 

Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24 (OT)
I don’t think the Bears are going to make the playoffs, and I think if you got them in a moment of honesty, they’d agree and admit they’re playing these last three games for pride. That’s not a slight against them at all – they’ve looked legitimately better across the board over the last month. The Packers don’t seem like a 10-3 team to me; they’re a 7-5 team according to their Expected W-L, football’s version of baseball’s Pythagorean formula. Their best win of the season came against a Chiefs team that didn’t have Patrick Mahomes. And while this game means everything to Chicago, there is actually not a whole lot on the line for Green Bay: per FiveThirtyEight, the Packers’ odds of winning the division currently sit at 93%. A loss would drop that to 86%. There are fair gripes out there about what Nagy’s shown as a play caller though two seasons, but these types of motivational situations are where he does his best work. The Bears get their biggest win of the season, and are rewarded with a week of Pat Mahomes prep.