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I haven't had much reason to talk about the Chicago Bears this year. Since the preseason, the team has gone from bad to worse. Injuries has been the story of the season, but injuries are no excuse for the abysmally poor play from this team. The Bears have used all three of their quarterbacks and at least four of their running backs this season, as they've been going through a revolving door of injuries.

Rookie Jordan Howard has been the bright spot of the season. With injuries to Jeremy Langford and KaDeem Carey, Howard has been the bell-cow rusher for most of the season. And he has performed well. Not as well as the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliot, but still pretty good. Howard carried the Bears to 3 touchdowns in a 26-6 victory over the 49ers earlier today. It looks like the Bears have found a replacement for Matt Forte, assuming that Howard can continue to perform this well in the years to come.

Jordan Howard
The Bears look like they've found a replacement for Matt Forte. Jordan Howard has been excellent.

The quarterback situation, however, hasn't been as fortuitous. Cutler was out for a while, and Brian Hoyer played well in his stead. It looked like Cutler's career as a starting quarterback for the Bears was over (finally). Then Hoyer got hurt, and the untested Matt Barkley finished the game without much fanfare. The Bears weren't confident in playing a third-string quarterback, so Cutler came back the following week and lead the team to its second win of the season (a 20-10 victory over the collapsing Vikings in week 8). So maybe Cutler was back to form? Maybe he was going to save his job with a late-season rally?

Not so. The Bears were embarrassed the following week by Tampa Bay, and Cutler got hurt once again the following week against the New York Giants. Cutler will have to have surgery to repair the damage, which means that his season (and possibly his career with the Bears) is over.

In comes young backup quarterback Matt Barkley. Because of the Bears' horrible record, they are never on TV, which means I haven't been able to watch a single one of their games since their week 3 beat-down at the hands of the Cowboys - another reason that I haven't written much about them since the beginning of the season. Supposedly, however, Barkley played well against the Titans. He threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the team still lost 27-21. The offense could have been better, but the receiving corp seemingly didn't want to help him out. With Alshon Jeffrey out on a suspension and Kevin White sidelined for the season with an injury, a corp of backup receivers dropped a lot of passes in that game, including some in the end zone. Barkley also threw 2 interceptions (one of which was in the Red Zone), so it wasn't like he was perfect either.

Barkley made some bad decisions under pressure, but receivers also didn't help him much

At least the offense is actually doing something now!

But the offense is actually doing something now! Up until Barkley's first start against the Titans, the bears' offense had averaged only 15.7 points per game, and their best performance had been a 23-point losing effort against the Colts. But now they've scored more than 20 points in the last two games (21 against Tennessee and 26 against San Francisco) on the legs of Jordan Howard and the arm of Matt Barkley. Maybe the 49ers and Titans just have bad defenses - defenses that are worse than the Bears' offense is bad.

But the point is that the team might actually be better now than it was with Cutler or Hoyer. It's too late now for the Bears to make a playoff run. With only fur weeks left, they can't catch up to the Lions' 8 wins, which means they cannot win the division. They're also almost certainly out of contention for a wild card spot. The Giants are the only non-division leader with 8 or more wins, which means that the Bears could hypothetically get a playoff berth with a 7-win season. But that would require half of the NFC to not win any more games this season.

Time to play for a top draft pick?

So with the playoff hopes virtually nill, should the Bears even bother winning any more games this season. Only the Browns (0-12), 49ers (1-11), and Jaguars (2-10) now have worse records than the Bears, which puts the Bears in contention for the fourth or fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft (depending on how whether they beat the 3-8 Jets in a tie-breaker). Had they lost the game against the 49ers, then the Bears, Jaguars, and 49ers would all be 2-10. The 49ers and Jaguars would both have head-to-head tie-breakers against the Bears, which means that the Bears could have gotten the second overall pick.

This could cost the Bears the opportunity to pick one of the top quarterbacks (Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina and Deshaun Watson from Clemson) in this year's draft. If they end up with the 4th or 5th pick, they could still potentially get DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame, or one of the top-tier defensive players on the board. The defense does need help, but I think the team really needs stability at the quarterback position. If Barkley shows promise in the remainder of this season (and doesn't get hurt), then maybe the Bears can pass on taking an early-round quarterback this year and try to strengthen their defense and offensive line. They could keep Hoyer as a veteran backup and maybe go for a late-round quarterback in order to develop him.

Argh! The Bears could have had Dak Prescott last year!

Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott
The Bears could have drafted Dak Prescott in last year's draft.

If the Bears have to wait a year to draft a quarterback, then they could try to trade or sign for Tony Romo. With Dak Prescott's success in Dallas, it's very likely that Romo will end up on the open market, and I feel that he's a definite upgrade over Jay Cutler, even though he would only be a temporary solution.

Leonard Floyd sacks Blaine Gabbert for a safety
Leonard Floyd has played well since his injury.

And that might be what they need to do. I don't think that it's right for any football team to ever play to lose. These are professionals, their job is to win football games, and that is exactly what everyone in the organization should be trying to do. Playing to lose doesn't allow the coaching staff to properly gauge the competitiveness and competency of their current roster, and with all the injuries forcing young players onto the field, those young players need a proper evaluation. If Barkley, Howard, Leonard Floyd, and other young players can rally this team to victories in these waning weeks of the season, then they will show promise going into next year.

In the meantime, I guess I'll be rooting on the Lions to win the division (and hopefully keep the Packers out of the playoffs). And maybe I'll even root for the Cowboys and the Raiders, as they might be the best hope at preventing another Patriot Super Bowl win.

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