The NFL is a hit-or-miss league.
And when you miss, everything is amplified. Every snap, play, practice rep, comment, and story that comes up between the end of a loss and the beginning of next week’s game will be amplified. But even with the knowledge that we’re all a little sensitive right now, I can’t escape how much next week’s game against the Lions already feels like a must-win for the Bears. I hate it, but we have to talk about it.
For starters, it’s a divisional game, so the stakes are already a little higher, even against the 0-3 Lions. For another, it’s a game in which oddsmakers expect the Bears to win (though the odds were dwindling as soon as they went on the board):
The Bears have gone from 6-point favorites to 3-point favorites against the Lions in the last two hours on DraftKings.
— Matt Clapp (@DaBearNecess) September 27, 2021
An astute observation from Matt Clapp of The Comeback/Awful Announcing, who saw the Bears going from 6-point favorites at home against the Lions to 3-point favorites in a two-hour swing. That’s a notable turn, and one we should quickly discuss.
If you’re not much of a gambler, allow me to point out two facts: (1) Home teams are generally given a 3-point cushion alongside home-field advantage, and (2) In order for a 6-point spread to move toward a 3-point spread, Lions backers must wager a healthy chunk of money. Because, ultimately, the lines are there to entice wagers. So, in other words, there was enough of a belief in the Lions (over the Bears) in those two hours to move the line their way in order to get some money back on the Bears. That doesn’t paint the Bears’ current picture in a flattering light.
Now, let’s further contextualize things from a purely football perspective. By settling on a 3-point spread, there is a belief that the Bears and Lions would be on equal footing if the game were taking place at a neutral site. The mere idea of the Bears – who have made the postseason twice in the last three years and thrown gobs of money and draft capital to compete for something this season – is on even ground as as winless Lions* team openly tearing it down to rebuild should stop Bears front office in their tracks. It’s gobsmacking to think about it in these terms, but here we are sitting on the cusp of a Week 4 Lions game being a must-win contest. GULP.
*Note: To be fair, while the Lions are winless, they’ve faced some pretty tough opponents through the first three weeks (Ravens, Packers, 49ers). And it took a Justin Tucker 66-yard field goal as time expired to lose the last one. So they’re probably a little tougher than they’re getting credit. But still. It’s the Lions and they’re winless. And they’re at an entirely different place in their competitive cycle, and so on.
And more importantly, they may be the weakest opponent the Bears face in a while. In fact, if the Bears can’t get a W this Sunday, it might be a while before another opportunity as favorable comes their way:
Next up for Fields/Bears are the Lions.
All pressure teams.
If they don't get it figured out this week we might not see Fields again till late Nov when the next Lions game rolls around. If then.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 27, 2021
Those teams range from perennially good (Steelers), to good and better than expected (Raiders), to good and can be better (49ers), and finally to legitimate Super Bowl contenders (Packers, Buccaneers, Ravens). So if the Bears are every bit the hot mess they were last Sunday in the weeks to come, there is going to be trouble. And there won’t be a soft underbelly for which Ryan Pace, Matt Nagy, and others can use as a vehicle to escape like last year’s softer season-ending stretch.
But it doesn’t have to go that way.
Beat the Lions, while looking competent on offense, and your team is in an OK spot.
If the Bears can get to 2-2 (and look good doing so), they’ll be fine in the short term. No, beating the Lions wouldn’t make them “good” overnight (even if they’re a slightly tougher opponent than they may seem). But they would at least be in a position to let Justin Fields development continue with a shot at meaningful late-season football. And if he can help the Bears get there while displaying his dual threat talents, working with a more cohesive offensive line, and by deploying plays meant to, you know, gain yards … at least it would change the Monday morning conversation.
After all, escaping that opening stretch with a 2-2 start wouldn’t be the worst thing from a big picture perspective. In fact, if we’re realistic, we can admit that anything more would’ve been legitimately impressive and thus pretty surprising, generally speaking.
But anything less than 2-2 will fire off red flags so bright they can be seen from the outer rim territories of galaxies far, far away.
Falling to 1-3 before the season’s toughest stretch could be the beginning of the end of this era of Bears football. But then again, it could get the ball rolling in terms of building toward the next one. I run the risk of putting too much emphasis on this game, but it could be one that dictates which lane the Bears need to take moving forward. And it cuts both ways. We had an idea we would hit fork in the road for Nagy, Pace, and the Bears organization. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting it to come so soon.
Ugh. I hate that a Week 4 game against the Lions makes me feel this way.