Welcome to the club if you feel like the season just started yesterday and at the same time has been going on for years.
All that’s left now is a final meeting Sunday in Minneapolis between the Bears and the Vikings, two teams stuck right next to each other endlessly failing to get the rock up the hill.
The preview is easy with nothing at stake for the two clubs but pride and staying healthy.
Watching NFL football is fun, so let’s hope the game is well played and the kids on both sides give us a better idea of who has a future and who doesn’t.
It is worth noting the Bears have played some of their better football the past two weeks while the Vikings have faded.
The Bears are 5 ½-point underdogs, and the over/under is 44.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings DLs Sheldon Richardson, D.J. Wonnum vs. Bears OTs Larry Borom, Teven Jenkins
Vikings CBs Patrick Peterson, Kris Boyd vs. Bears WRs Darnell Mooney, Dazz Newsome
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn vs. Bears CBs Thomas Graham Jr., Kindle Vildor
This is about what the Bears can see in the kids to plan for the offseason. Although none of these are necessarily man-on-man matchups we’ll see all day, these guys will see a lot of each other, and how they perform will be interesting.
Jenkins and Borom will be able to block the run, but can they learn to pass block? Wonnum is the Vikings’ top guy off the edge with Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen out, and Richardson is now on the other end because of the injuries.
Peterson is no longer in his prime but still can challenge Mooney, and Boyd is a guy Newsome should be able to do some damage against if he indeed has NFL chops.
Jefferson is one of the best young pass catchers in the league, and Minnesota will try to get him away from Jaylon Johnson and on Graham or Vildor.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Does the in-game stuff really matter?
Mike Zimmer and Matt Nagy are on two of the hottest seats in the league. It seems unlikely that anything that happens in the game will have much impact on their futures, but we’ll all be watching and listening to see if anything happens Sunday night or on Black Monday.
Keep in mind, between these two clubs there are over 40 assistants and quality control coaches whose futures are at stake, as well.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bears OTs Jenkins, Borom, CBs Newsome, Graham Jr., RB Khalil Herbert, TE Cole Kmet, DT Khyiris Tonga, OLB Trevis Gipson; Vikings OLB Anthony Barr, QB Kirk Cousins
Again, for the Bears it’s simple: How many of these and other youngsters can make an impact on what comes next?
After eight seasons in Minnesota, Barr will be a 29-year-old free agent and still is one of the Vikings’ most important playmakers. Can he show enough to make Minnesota keep him or create a market in free agency?
Next season is the last year of Cousins’ $97 million deal, and it includes a $45 million cap hit, all guaranteed, but only $10 million is dead if they can trade his $35 million salary. It hasn’t worked out, so what are the Vikings to do?
Who shows up?
The best thing Nagy has going for him is his team clearly hasn’t quit on him and appears very much in his corner. They’ll come to play. I really don’t know where the Vikes’ locker room is at.
WILD-CARD PLAYERS WHO COULD SURPRISE
Bears QB Andy Dalton, WR Allen Robinson, RB David Montgomery, OLBs Robert Quinn, Gipson
Do Dalton and Robinson head into the free-agent market with a bang after struggling all season?
Is Montgomery as close to a monster game as it has seemed he is the past few weeks?
Will Quinn relax or end the second-best season of his career in style. Was last week the beginning of something special for Gipson? The Bears’ pass rush tortured Cousins and his offensive line three weeks ago.
THE FINAL WORD
Bears 27, Vikings 20
The way they’ve played and spoken the past few weeks, it just feels like this matters to the Bears, and they clearly have matched up vs. the Vikings well under Nagy.
• Hub Arkush is a Shaw Media correspondent.