'Meaningless' Bears-Packers contests somehow manage to matter

'Meaningless' Bears-Packers contests somehow manage to matter

In a season replete with disappointments of every stripe, a game against the Green Bay Packers doesn’t really stand tall with a 3-10 Bears team. But maybe it should, because so many times, seemingly meaningless Bears-Packers games have taken on epic significance completely apart from any superfluous “rivalry” rhetoric.

Too often at the expense of the Bears.

Now, however, one of those “meaningless” games does mean something to the Bears, for whom every game now effectively becomes a character showcase as much as a football evaluation.

“Everybody looks at record,” said coach John Fox. “Everybody does. We do, too. Obviously, that's very disappointing. But some of the progress we've made, some of the people that study the game, look at it can see statistically quite a bit of growth. Again, we're not at the point where the statistic in the win-loss record is where we would like it and expect it to be. But you do see progress.”

The Packers game is the next test-kitchen for that assessment.

The Bears’ win last year at Green Bay held apparent great significance because it brought the Bears to 5-6 with eminently winnable home games next against San Francisco and Washington, both of which the Bears lost, taking their season with it. The 2015 season-opener vs. Green Bay was potentially of note because it was the first game under Fox and the Bears, who led at halftime, were driving for a potential tying score in the fourth quarter before a Jay Cutler interception, and left the game angry at a statement opportunity lost.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Marc Trestman tenure nosed fully over into its death spiral with the Week 17 loss in 2013 to the Packers on the Chris Conte coverage breakdown on Green Bay’s final play. The Week 15 loss in 2012 cost the Bears a wild-card spot and Lovie Smith his job. The loss to the Packers in Week 16 of 2010 allowed the Packers to squeeze into the playoffs as a wild card, which they converted into a Super Bowl trip and victory by defeating the Bears again in the NFC Championship game.

This year the game is critical for the Packers (7-6), who have won three straight to stay within sight of the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North. Limping in as a wild card likely doesn’t happen for Green Bay, with the Giants (9-4) and Tampa Bay (8-5) ahead of them, and Minnesota (7-6) next week for the Packers, who lost to the Vikings in their first meeting.

The Bears are playing for something beyond the standings. Fox has sought since he arrived to effect a culture change, which has looked to be happening even without victories. Since the debacle in Tampa, the Bears have been played their way into position in three of the last four games to win on final possessions (Giants, Tennessee, Detroit). That they didn’t was the result of admitted individual player breakdowns rather than a collective collapse.

“You are only as good as your record says you are,” said linebacker Willie Young, one of the veterans on an overall young defense. “We've been battling, from A-to-Z we've been battling. I really feel that this year, with all of the young guys that we have, and even guys coming from winning organizations who are not familiar with dealing with adversity like such, I really think it's going to help and build us as a team in the future.”

And the winner is...

The Bears have confounded attempts to typecast or clearly predict their performances this year. One prognosticator opined that the Bears were a better pick based on covering spreads, because they are losing games they could have won (four lost leads in fourth quarters this season) but are consistently close in game even with good teams (Giants, Lions, Vikings).

But the Packers come to Soldier Field on a three-game roll, whereas the Bears have been unable to finish strong and close out games with either a defensive stop or offensive strike. The historic cold being forecast won’t favor either team, given the Packers’ familiarity with playing in cold weather.

Wind is the more impactful factor in the NFL, and Aaron Rodgers is simply far, far more experienced that Matt Barkley with game-altering conditions, which will keep the score low.

Prediction: Packers 20, Bears 13

View from the Moon 2016 record: 7-6

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Mitch Trubisky still 'the guy?'


Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Mitch Trubisky still 'the guy?'

KC Johnson, Jamal Collier and Jay Cohen join Laurence on the panel.
0:00 - Ryan Pace says he believes in Mitch. Matt Nagy says Mitch needs to be able to read defenses better than his head coach.  So is Mitch still the guy for the Bears? 
9:00 - Jim Boylen doesn't think the Bulls will hold his poor win-loss record against him.  Is that fair given all of the injuries the teams has?
13:00 - NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh joins Laurence. He discusses how the rest of the league feels about Boylen's late-game timeouts, the Kobe Bryant memorial service and if Zion can lead the Pelicans to the playoffs.
17:00 - Ozzie Guillen joins to the panel on White Sox night at the Bulls game. Plus he gives his thoughts on the upcoming season for the Southsiders.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Sports Talk Live Podcast


Bears and Ryan Pace praise "underrated" (and highly paid) Leonard Floyd

Bears and Ryan Pace praise "underrated" (and highly paid) Leonard Floyd

I would make an argument that Leonard Floyd is the most divisive player on the Bears right now. Trubisky seems like the runaway candidate until you realize everyone already feels the same way about him. 

Floyd, on the other hand, gets a lot of love from the All-The-Tools gang while garnering equal amounts of hate from people who swear by Pro Football Focus. He's an incredibly athletic, situationally-useful edge rusher who just can't really get to the passer. Is there value in that? Of course! How much? I don't know, but it's probably not $13 million. That's how much Floyd, who had a career-low 3 sacks last season, is going to make in 2020, and it's surely a number the Bears are taking a long look at this winter. $13 million is a lot of money for an edge rusher who shows up in the box score; it's certainly a lot of money for an edge rusher who doesn't.

RELATED: Will Ryan Pace's actions speak louder than his words

You would think this predicament might open the Bears up to some sort of contract restructuring, or even a trade. Every moment of media availability at the combine is just a chance for general managers to set smokescreens, but it sure doesn't sound like the Bears are trying to move on. 

"I think Leonard wants to be more productive as a pass rusher," Pace said on Tuesday morning. We want him to be more productive there too. He's close in a lot of areas when you look at the pressures and those things. He just needs to finish a little better on the quarterback. But I think when you're evaluating him, you have to factor in everything. His run defense. His ability in coverage."

"We consider him our "Sam" outside linebacker, so we value what he can do in coverage and think sometimes that goes a little underrated for what he does in that area, for a guy that's of his stature. Not many outside linebackers can drop in coverage like he does. So, that's a factor."

Maybe that's what the Bears WANT us to think! Maybe Pace is playing chess while we're all playing checkers. Or maybe he has a problem knowing when to cut bait with a high draft pick who hasn't panned out. Who knows! 

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