While the nation’s drinking amateurs battle their New Year’s Eve hangovers, many of us with saddle up our favorite barstool to watch the last Chicago Bears game of this depressing, injury-plagued 2016 campaign. But is the experience anything more than a mere formality?
Many will argue no. They will say nothing happening on the field in Minnesota will have any bearing on the future of this football team. And, honestly, it’s a point well-taken. But my job is to find meaning. So I’m doing my job. Here’s three things worth paying attention to when it comes to the finale.
The Barkley Rebound
#Barkleytime is coming off his first clunker of 2016 and it would be easy for fans to expect the sailing passes and poor decision making from his effort against Washington to continue. Sunday’s Barkley was the one many us expected and were shocked not to see through his first four starts.
Another dud and the bloom comes entirely off the rose. But a solid, mistake-free start could make it easy for Ryan Pace to keep Barkley in the fold moving forward. He’s shown tremendous rebound within game, often shaking off a poor three quarters to deliver a brilliant fourth. Can he rebound with a week of negativity between starts?
The Run Defense
A coach once told me “run defense is all about want to”. If that’s true the Bears haven’t wanted to in a fortnight.
Both Green Bay and Washington out-muscled the the middle of the Bears defense and took advantage of their lack of discipline on the outside. Yes, there are injuries playing a role in these struggles. But injuries don’t excuse McPhee letting Cousins around the edge, Amos taking bad angles or Hicks disappearing after a dominant period mid-season.
Minnesota has one of the league’s most limited passing attacks. If they’re able to run effectively against the Bears, it’s fair to question whether this group has packed it in for 2017. And if they have, what does that say for their head coach?
Alshon & Cam
The Alshon Jeffery drama begins the second this game ends. But if Cam Meredith continues to thrive when Alshon is active, one has to wonder if it’ll be enough to convince Pace this can be a winning combination at wide receiver moving forward. Meredith will be called upon to play a major role in 2017. But he’s a supporting player, not a leading man. Meredith excelling Sunday could possibly do more for Alshon’s future in Chicago than Jeffery excelling himself.