At 5-10 and coming off a dominant 20-3 win against the Cleveland Browns, the Chicago Bears will look to end their season on a high note as they head on the road to face the red-hot Minnesota Vikings, who can wrap up a first-round bye with a win on Sunday.
With the Vikings still having something to play for, don’t expect any easy game for the Bears, who will likely be playing as hard as they can in what is almost assuredly head coach John Fox’s last game with the franchise.
Coming off an impressive win, even if it was against the now 0-15 Browns, it would be nice for the Bears’ young core to end the season on a high note in Minnesota, even if it costs them a few draft spots in the process. With just one more game left in the 2017 season, here’s what to watch for in Week 17.
The numbers (14-for-23, 193 passing yards, 44 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown) weren’t overly impressive last Sunday against the Browns but Trubisky had one of his best games of the season and will look to end a turbulent rookie season on a positive note.
This week, he’ll face a Vikings defense that ranks first in total yards and points against and second against the run and pass. In his first start, Trubisky faced the Vikings and had a somewhat positive debut outside of his interception late in the fourth quarter (12-for-25 for 128 passing yards and a touchdown) but he’ll need to do more to get a win on Sunday.
Trubisky summed it up best after the win on Sunday: “It’s not really about individual stats for me. It’s about growth and development and getting better each day.” Which is why the end result on the scoreboard won’t be nearly as important as how the rookie finishes out his 12th start.
Cornerback is one position where the Bears are going to have a large cap allocation increase this off-season, with both Kyle Fuller, who is in the midst of a breakout season, and Prince Amukamara due to be free agents in March.
Amukamara will be 29 next season and has continued to be a steady presence who has stayed healthy most of the year. Yet his upside is all but tapped out and he’s more of a steady No. 2 than a lock-down No. 1. The good news is that he shouldn’t cost too much to extend (likely around the $7 million-per-year he is making now, just on a longer deal) and has said he feels the team is building something special and wants to stick around for 2018 and beyond.
On the other side, Fuller will be much more of a question mark moving into free agency as he’s likely due for a large pay day (somewhere around Dre Kirkpatrick money).
For Fuller, two questions remain unanswered. It’s unclear if (A) general manager Ryan Pace will be open to paying market value and (B) does Fuller even want to stay in Chicago? Fuller allowed no catches on 9 targets with 6 passes defensed and his second interception of the season against the Browns, which will only help his stock.
While I firmly believe that the Bears need to upgrade one of their two boundary corner positions, they could do a lot worse than bring both current starters back. Sunday will be their last test before they hit the market and it’ll be a tall task facing both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs on the other side of the ball.
Only time will tell what happens to both players this off-season but finishing on a strong note could help both player’s stock in March.
Roster Bubble Players
Much like Amuakamra and Fuller, there will be more 2018 roster decisions to be finalized after Sunday’s final game.
Markus Wheaton: After showing up with 2 catches in week 15, Wheaton was once again in hiding and rarely found on the field this past Sunday against a bottom-rated defense. With a $5.75M cap hit in 2018, it’s really hard to see him doing enough on Sunday to justify coming back next year.
Marcus Cooper: The emergence of Fuller, Amukamara and nickelback Bryce Callahan has left little room for guys like Cooper and Cre’Von LeBlanc to get on the field. With a $5.5 million cap hit in 2018, and only $1 million in dead money, it seems unlikely Cooper will be in Chicago next year. If the Bears drop close to $20 million per year on the starting boundary corners, it’s hard to see them paying that much for Cooper to stick around as depth.
Lamarr Houston: Since re-signing with the Bears a month ago, Houston has four sacks in as many games and could play himself into a cheap short-term deal in 2018, especially with Pernell McPhee likely heading out the door before March. While he’s not a long-term option, Houston is someone who could provide depth as a third or fourth option off the edge.
With this likely being the majority of the coaching staff’s last game with the organization, it’ll be worth monitoring the sidelines, including the coaches and the players. The writing has been on the wall but make no mistake, the players love Fox and his staff, which could make for an emotional game on the field and in the post-game locker room.
Don’t be surprised if there’s an extra boost to the team’s step on Sunday as they may view this final game as their last chance to save their coach’s job. While it’s nothing substantial, it’s something worth monitoring in the team’s final outing.
– With the Bears win last Sunday, John Fox has saved himself from being the worst coach in franchise history, at least in terms of winning percentage. Fox also won his first game with the Bears while being favored but make no mistake, his job can’t be saved and I fully expect them to be officially on the open market come Monday afternoon.
– Speaking of the head coaching search, there’s a strong chance there could be upward of 10 teams looking for new head coaches. Here’s my predicted spots and how they rank in terms of attractiveness.
1. New York Giants (Huge market, good defensive core and high pick for new QB)
2. Houston Texans (DeShaun Watson and top end defense)
3. Detroit Lions (Matt Stafford and other good young players in place)
4. Chicago Bears (Historic franchise, Mitch Trubisky, high picks and cap flexibility)
5. Indianapolis Colts (Due to Andrew Luck’s health)
6. Arizona Cardinals (Who plays quarterback and how do you get one?)
7. Oakland Raiders (Up and down franchise and who is Derek Carr?)
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Maybe Jameis Winston isn’t that good and the roster lacks everywhere)
9. Washington Redskins (Terrible owner and what happens to Kirk Cousins?)
10. Cincinnati Bengals (Good defense and AJ Green but is Dalton the answer?)
– Expect things to heat up on the coaching front quickly. Candidates that have a bye week in the opening round of the playoffs will be able to interview next weekend, as will any college coach, fired coach or potential candidates that aren’t in the playoffs. The following week will allow Wild Card-round winners to interview for potential spots. With multiple teams expected to be in the market, expect to see a flurry of action and reported interviews by mid-next week.