Weighing the meaning of should-win games

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As a Bears fan, I will forever be in their corner no matter the circumstances. Don’t count me among those who are actively rooting for them to tank the rest of the season to try to get the best possible draft pick they can get.

So, as the Bears were closing out their first home victory of the season at Soldier Field Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, there was a sense of satisfaction. Was I elated? No. Would I have been devastated if they had lost? Not likely. But a win was enough to give me a smile and a small feeling of victory.

Still, even though my butt remains firmly planted on the Bears bandwagon, there was an empty void lingering somewhere inside. Something seemed incomplete about the Bears’ victory and less than fulfilling.

They say that any win in the NFL is a good win, whether good, bad, or ugly. There are only 16 games in a regular season and every victory helps. Almost any team in the NFL can beat another on any given Sunday. Just look at the Rams’ victory over the Broncos this week, the Bengals over the Saints, the Buccaneers over the Redskins, and the Chiefs over the Seahawks. Teams — even the league’s best — have to fight and claw to win games. Nothing is given.

But even with that knowledge percolating in the back of my head, I found it difficult to become excited about the win, because I’m not sure what such a win means.

Did the Bears win Game 1 of a possible 7-game win streak that leads to a playoff berth? Or did the Bears win a game they should have won, which now moves them one spot lower in the first round of April’s NFL Draft?

I care less about what the Bears’ record is at this point in the season and more about where their progress as a football team is currently at.

If the Bears had somehow beaten the Patriots and Packers and were still 4-6, I’d say they had a shot to win the Super Bowl given the victories over two of the league’s best teams.

Or, if the Bears had lost to the Patriots and Packers by scores like 31-28 or 27-24, I’d tell you I still think they had a shot to turn their season around and make the playoffs. If they had competed with arguably the two best teams in the NFL right now, then there’s no shame in them losing to them and there’d be reason for optimism.

But they didn’t compete in those two games. They got embarrassed by historic proportions. Which lets us all understand just how far behind those two teams the Bears really are.

It’s a discouraging feeling because you know there is no quick fix to get them out of this mess. They need two or three more drafts — in a best-case scenario — to replenish their roster with young talent to match the home-grown rosters of the Patriots and Packers. Perhaps its a fool’s errand to attempt to model your team after those two clubs because they have two of the best quarterbacks of all time on their roster. I like Jay Cutler, I stand by his talent and maintain he’s the best “available” option the Bears have in the league right now, but he’s no Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady.

The Bears had Super Bowl aspirations at the beginning of the season. Many of the league’s top pundits were predicting they’d be right there in the playoff picture with a shot at upsetting some of the league’s best teams and making a run at the title game.

But on Sunday, the Bears felt like a defeated championship-contending boxer. You know the kind: they work their way up the ranks and earn a shot against the top dogs in the sport. But after a brutal defeat, they get knocked back down into midcard status where their victories feel hollow and lacking meaning.

The Bears are not mathematically out of the playoff race. Nobody left on their schedule is a world beater. You might look at their schedule and shake in your booties when you see “big-named” teams like Dallas and New Orleans on the schedule, but neither of those teams are sure things this year. The Saints just lost their second-straight home game this week. The Bears have to face the division-leading Lions twice but we’ve seen upstart Lions teams in the past. They have to prove they can close the deal.

Not even on my most optimistic days would I predict the Bears to run the table in order to make the playoffs. They have to beat Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers first, and that’s not even a guarantee. But there’s still six weeks of football left and plenty of reasons to watch.

You just have to wonder what any of those potential victories would mean in their pursuit to catch up to the big dogs in the league.

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