Bears’ best bet is playing at full power, not resting players
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter December 21, 2013 5:42PM
PHILADELPHIA — Should the Bears coast into the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers next week if they have the chance Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles?
Maybe to give receiver Brandon Marshall a chance to rest his sore hamstring. Or to give running back Matt Forte a breather. And defense end Julius Peppers should be playing every other game regardless of the playoff situation. But that’s about it.
The Bears need work more than they need rest. Quarterback Jay Cutler has played one complete game in the last 10 weeks. If the risk of injury is that great that he needs rest more than work at this point, the Bears have a bigger problem than deciding whether to coast Sunday.
Rookie linebacker Jon Bostic and rookie offensive linemen Kyle Long and Jordan Mills still need every snap they can get. So does defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff. And safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright. Linebacker Lance Briggs has been cleared by doctors to play Sunday. Do the Bears really want him taking his first snaps in 10 weeks against the Packers next Sunday?
The players who should be feeling the physical toll the most are the veteran offensive linemen, who have played all 953 offensive snaps this season. But relative to the wear-and-tear of an NFL season, they’re in pretty good shape right now. The Bears work hard, but efficiency is a bigger premium than long hours under coach Marc Trestman, who ended practice an hour early Friday. It’s not the first time that has happened.
‘‘I feel better now in Week 16 than I have in any other year at this point,’’ said guard Matt Slauson, who’s in his fifth NFL season.
Slauson credits Mike Clark, the Bears’ first-year strength and conditioning coordinator and a former NFL strength and conditioning coach of the year.
‘‘Mike Clark is amazing. I’m a big believer in him,’’ Slauson said. ‘‘He’s done a tremendous job with planning everything for us and the way he has approached lifting this year.
‘‘It makes the week tough because you’re really tired during the week. But we have been so fresh on game day, feeling good. I’ve worked harder in the weight room this year than I ever have — and we’re doing a lot of explosive power-lifting, Olympic lifting, and it’s tough. But I really believe in it.’’
The Bears could be in a position to coast into the showdown with the Packers. Or they could have a chance to coast into the postseason next week against the Packers. But should they? Here are the key scenarios heading into Sunday’s game:
◆ If the Detroit Lions lose to the New York Giants at Ford Field and the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field, the Bears-Eagles game will have no impact on the NFC North race. The Bears-Packers game will decide the division winner.
◆ If the Lions lose and the Packers lose, the Bears can clinch the North with a victory over the Eagles, and next week’s game against the Packers will be meaningless.
◆ If the Lions, Packers and Bears win, the Bears still have to beat the Packers to win the division.
◆ If the Lions win and the Bears lose, the Bears can only win the division by beating the Packers next week while the Lions lose to the Minnesota Vikings.
Even if the Bears-Eagles game doesn’t affect the NFC North, a victory would clinch the No. 3 seed in the NFC if the Bears make the playoffs. That seems like something worth fighting for. The No. 3 seed likely would bring the New Orleans Saints or Carolina Panthers to Soldier Field in the first round instead of the San Francisco 49ers. And it probably would avoid a second-round matchup with the presumptive No. 1 seed Seahawks in Seattle.
Maybe not a big deal. But enough to play for.