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Expect Bears to go for broke in Week 17 vs. Vikings, with postseason opponent unknown

December 25, 2018

Shortly after the Bears finished off a brow-wiping victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Las Vegas sportsbooks started installing them as underdogs — anywhere from six to seven points — in a Week 17 game that still carries some meaning for Chicago’s playoff fate.

A first-round bye is still in the realm of possibilities for the Bears, although they’ll need some holiday blessings for that to happen. First, the Bears must dispatch the suddenly resurgent Vikings in Minnesota, and then the Rams (who likely will play without Todd Gurley) must lose to the 49ers.

The problem for the Bears? With their game now flexed to the afternoon slot, those two games will be happening concurrently, so Bears head coach Matt Nagy won’t know what his team needs to do. But it sounds as if Nagy doesn’t plan to rest his starters, at least those healthy enough to play.

“You understand that when you’re in the position that we’re in right now, anything can happen to these other teams,” Nagy said after Sunday’s win. “So you can’t just say, ‘This team’s going to win,’ or ‘This team’s going to lose.’ Anything can happen. So what you can control is winning your game as much as possible. If you don’t do that and then the other team has a chance to lose and they lose and you didn’t go about it the right way, now you just let that slip.

“So we need to go about this thing next week just like we have every other game. If you don’t do that, it changes how you approach your week mentally. How you approach it pregame. So that’s not what we’re going to do.”

Free safety Eddie Jackson (ankle) and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow), both of whom missed the 49ers game, would presumably be iffy for Week 17. The statuses of cornerback Kyle Fuller, who appeared to be favoring his leg late in Sunday’s game, and offensive guard Kyle Long, who could return from injured reserve, remain unknown for now.

Everyone else, one might safely assume, would be on the table.

The Vikings now have posted their two highest point totals the past two weeks since mid-October immediately after relieving former offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. They’ve outscored the Dolphins and Lions by a combined tally of 68-26 and appear to be more like the team that was showered with preseason Super Bowl hopes than the squad that lost four of six before that to limp to a 6-6-1 record.

The path for the 8-6-1 Vikings making the postseason is crystal clear: beat the Bears and they’re in. The Eagles, half a game back at 8-7, must beat Washington and hope for a Vikings loss. So there’s a very real chance that the Bears and Vikings could face each other in back-to-back games in the first round of the playoffs, with the rematch back at Soldier Field the first weekend in January.

For what it’s worth, the only time the Bears and Vikings have met three times in a season in the modern era was in the 1994 season, when the Bears lost both regular-season matchups but turned around and upset the Vikings in Minnesota on New Year’s Day 1995.

The Bears and Eagles would meet at Soldier Field if the Bears, Rams and Eagles all win next Sunday. This would be a very different rematch with Philadelphia than the 2017 contest that featured the eventual Super Bowl-champion Eagles stomping the John Fox-led Bears, 31-3, in what reasonably could be called Chicago’s worst effort of last season.

Even with the Eagles not resembling their title form most of this season, they have made an impressive late-season run following the injury to QB Carson Wentz, with Nick Foles stepping in beautifully. He now has helped engineer dramatic victories over the Rams in Los Angeles and the Texans in Philadelphia and likely would arrive in Chicago a confident team with momentum heading into the postseason.

Assuming a first-round bye is unattainable for the Bears, projecting which teams — Vikings or Eagles — they’d want to face is an interesting debate.

On the one hand, their prep work for the Vikings would be far less, although the same would be said for Minnesota. Under Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have posted a record of 11-5 when facing a team for a second time in a season (including playoff games), and two of those losses came in his first season in 2014. Zimmer has never faced a team for a third time in a season as a head coach.

The Eagles remain a flawed team, even if they’re undoubtedly dangerous and also peaking at the right time. Their secondary is still in pretty rough shape, and they’ve averaged only 84 rush yards on offense in seven games since the bye. That said, Foles has led a resurgent passing game — aided by old friend Alshon Jeffery, who has caught 17 passes for 292 yards and a TD the past three contests — and the pass rush has helped make up for the issues on the back end. The Eagles have 26 sacks in their past 10 games.

Expect Nagy to play next Sunday’s regular-season finale straight up and leave the Bears’ postseason path in the hand of fate, not worrying about what he and the team can’t control. Both the Vikings and Eagles are dangerous in their own ways, and it’s tough to say which team is more dangerous.

And if the Bears happen to get a little luck and earn a first-round bye, all the better.

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