By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — Depending on what happens late Sunday afternoon in Detroit and Green Bay, Bears head coach Marc Trestman may elect to rest some key starters against the Eagles on Sunday night.
The Bears trip to Philadelphia may mean a lot and it may mean very little. If the Lions lose to the Giants and the Packers lose to the Steelers, the Bears could win the NFC North Sunday night with a win. But if the Lions lose and the Packers win, the division will come down to the Week 17 matchup with Green Bay at Soldier Field no matter what.
Under that scenario, the only meaningful outcome of Sunday night’s game against the Eagles would be seeding, as the NFC East and NFC North winners will take either the No. 3 or No. 4 seeds in the playoffs. So is that enough incentive for Trestman to risk injury to key players that he’ll certainly need against the Packers in Week 17?
“We’re 8-6 and we need to continue to progress and win, I think that’s No. 1,” Trestman said. “No. 2 is, winning does take us a to a different place in terms of potential seeding, which is critically important, so just leaving it at that is enough to reason out how we would want to play the game.”
But Trestman is a smart man. He knows that potential seeding will be meaningless if the Bears don’t make the playoffs at all.
“Could that change? Certainly. But right now, we’re focused on winning a game and there’s nothing else to discuss at this time. And at 7 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday night, if the situation needs to be re-evaluated again, it’s open for discussion.”
In other words, Trestman isn’t ruling out the idea of resting key players if the situation warrants it.
The Lions’ game against the Giants at Ford Field kicks off at 3:05 CT and if the Lions win, the Bears will need to beat the Eagles to remain in control of the NFC North. The Lions are currently one game back, but hold the tiebreaker over the Bears because they won both head-to-head matchups this season.
But if the Lions lose, the attention will turn to the Packers, who host the Steelers at 3:25 CT. If they lose too, then the Bears can win the NFC North with a win over the Eagles. But if the Packers win, the NFC North will come down to a winner-take-all matchup at Soldier Field Dec. 29, no matter what happens against the Eagles.
Interestingly enough, the Eagles could be in a similar situation. If the Dallas Cowboys beat the Redskins in Washington at Noon CT, the NFC East will come down to a Week 17 winner-take-all matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys in Dallas no matter what happens against the Bears Sunday night.
So far, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has maintained that he’ll play his starters against the Bears, but he’s a smart man too, and there’s no reason why he can’t change his tune in the four hours between when the Cowboys game ends and the Eagles game starts.
Some head coaches might deem the seeding implications as enough to play for. The difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 seed could mean the difference between playing a divisional game in Seattle vs. playing in New Orleans or Carolina. It could also mean the difference between hosting the NFC Championship Game or going on the road for the Super Bowl clincher.
There’s also the idea of keeping the vibes of the Bears’ current two-game win-streak going. Quarterback Jay Cutler just returned after missing four straight games and Trestman’s offense is clicking at a high level. Would resting the starters risk that momentum?
“I think you want to get on a run going into the playoffs,” Cutler said Thursday. “You want to be playing your best football, you don’t want to lose, lose, get in the playoffs. You want to be on a winning streak when you get into the playoffs and kind of roll from there. That’s our mindset. We’re going to play the Eagles as hard as we can and hopefully get out of there with a win.”
That’s the players’ mindset because that’s what the coaching staff is preaching to the team this week. They have to approach the game as a “must-win” because there’s a good chance it will be.
“Right now, logically, not a minute has gone by where we thought about (sitting key players),” Trestman said. “The only thing we’re thinking about is finding one more way to beat the Eagles and put our team in the best position to have success Sunday night.”
That’s the right approach to have right now. But you heard the head coach. It could all change at 7 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday night.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.