Sunday’s game between the 2-9 Chicago Bears and 1-10 San Francisco 49ers marks the first time since 2007 that two teams with a combined 19 losses have played each other in Week 13 or later.
Both teams have been train wrecks this year, which actually makes this game very important. According to ESPN Stats & Info, if the Bears lose on Sunday, their odds of finishing with the second overall pick in next year's draft go from 25 percent to 49 percent. If they lose Sunday, their chances at No. 2 drastically shrink to 6 percent.
I wish I could talk about how interesting this game is going to be from a national audience’s perspective but there’s simply little justification to warrant any outside interest.
That said, the Bears have just five game left this season and have a total of 16 players on Injured Reserve, with the latest being ILB Danny Trevathan and QB Jay Cutler. So, while this game may not be pretty, consider these last five games an audition for multiple players on the roster fighting for more playing time this season and beyond.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Not only are the Bears starting fourth-string QB Matt Barkley, the offense is also down its top two receivers and starting tight end. The lack of reliable targets quickly reared its ugly head in last Sunday’s game. The receiving group ended the game with a whopping 10 drops, which was the most Pro Football Focus has recorded since their start back in 2006.
This week, the Bears have promoted seventh-round pick, and fan favorite, Daniel Braverman from the practice squad. Braverman and the team's remaining receivers and tight ends will look to stake their claim for a roster spot in 2017, or at least get the inside track on one.
Main names to watch include Marquess Wilson, Cameron Meredith, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker and Braverman.
This position has been a revolving door since the end of days of Mike Brown and this year has been no different.
Adrian Amos has somehow taken a sizable step back, especially in coverage, where he was torched against the Titans.
Opposite the unsteady Amos, the other safety spot has had three different starters through 11 games. Harold Jones-Quartey received first crack at the job but has been benched twice. Chris Prosinski has much better special teams value and the 30-year-old provides little upside for a team building toward the future. Fourth-round rookie Deon Bush is the latest starter at the position but he has made a host of mental and physical mistakes the past two weeks.
The Bears desperately need one of the five safeties on the roster to step up and show enough to become at least an average starter down the line. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
Not far down the "needs" list from safety is cornerback. While Tracy Porter has played consistently well, even in the midst of battling injuries, everyone else behind him has been inconsistent at best.
The Bears on Wednesay opted to open Kyle Fuller’s 21-day practice window, which could allow him to play this Sunday for the first time all season. Getting Fuller and Deiondre Hall, both of whom are listed as questionable, back for the remaining five games could provide much more clarity in the secondary, especially heading into a deep free-agent market and draft class.
Bryce Callahan had the worst game of his professional career last Sunday but he has shown that when he is healthy, he is a quality player with long-term upside.
Barring health, these last five games will show us just how much help the Bears need at the cornerback position next off-season.
Jay Cutler will undergo surgery on Saturday for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, which officially ends his 2016 season.
That leaves Matt Barkley as the team's starting quarterback the final five games of the season.
The former USC Trojan had a mixed bag of results in his first NFL start but, to his credit, he did finish strong. His final stat line included 316 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 52-percent completion rate that was severely hindered by the 10 drops.
It’s unlikely Barkley is a part of the Bears' future plans, especially with Connor Shaw still under team control, but with a strong finish, Barkley could earn a chance to compete for the team’s third quarterback spot in 2017.
It’s been two full games since the Bears were credited with their last sack. This is somewhat surprising, especially after the pass-rush surge that occurred following the return of Pernell McPhee, as well as the emergence of rookie Leonard Floyd.
Due to a struggling secondary, the front seven is not only the main cog to the defense but will play one of the larger roles in the team’s success moving forward.
Floyd’s emergence played a key role for a bolstered pass rush and his presence has been severely missed over the last game and a half. He's officially listed as questionable this week. His on-field presence would be a huge boost for the defense on Sunday.
A Few Thoughts
- Will the injuries ever stop? ILB Danny Trevathan became the 16th player to land on IR this year and now many wonder if the start of the 2017 is in jeopardy for the big free-agent acquisition.
- With a lack of talent throughout the secondary, this seems like an awfully good time to try Kyle Fuller out at safety, especially with his fifth-year option looming.
- A loss Sunday would all but lock up a top-five pick for the first time since 2005, when the Bears selected Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick.