Chicago Bears

What the outcome of the Bears vs. Packers game could mean for team's 2024 season

There's a feeling that the Bears can keep their good vibes rolling into 2024

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Technically the Bears have nothing to play for when they head to Lambeau Field this Sunday for their regular season finale against the Green Bay Packers. The Bears were eliminated from the playoffs in Week 17, so the best they can do is play spoiler and knock the Packers out of postseason contention.

Yes, this is a big rivalry game and coming home with the first win over the Packers since 2018 would exorcise a lot of demons for the franchise. It would be a poetic end for the 2023 season, after the Week 1 flop against Green Bay set the tone for a disastrous 0-4 start.

All of that is important and good and worth the time, effort and investment into Week 18. But something even more important could be at stake: momentum.

Momentum is something that we talk about a lot in sports, from three-point streaks to slumps at the plate to teams getting hot right before March Madness. We follow these trends like any other storyline. We use stats to try to explain momentum, but really momentum is tough to quantify. It’s more something you feel. Month-to-month, game-to-game, play-to-play, we can sense when a team is headed in the right direction or if a team is doomed to tailspin. Right now, feelings are overwhelmingly positive around Halas Hall, and the Bears believe that momentum can carry over year-to-year into next year.

“Everyone knows where we’re going,” said Justin Jones. “This is what we’ve been working for, this is what we’ve been talking about. Everybody’s been talking about staying the course and just chipping away. When you’re talking to the media or fans that’s white noise, but that’s really what we’re standing on here. I’m just glad that we’re finally showing it’s not lip service to the world.”

Montez Sweat kept his assessment simple: “We’re building something special.”

“This defense, this team in general, it’s special,” said Eddie Jackson. “The plays Justin (Fields) and the offense is making, it’s unreal. Us coming out here and keep getting these turnovers. It’s showing you what we got, the type of things we’ve got on the team, the type of people we’ve got on the roster.”

There’s reason to believe all this talk of momentum isn’t just wishful thinking heading into the new year. There are plenty of examples of teams carrying over good play at the end of one season into the next, and you don’t have to search too far to find one. Take this year’s Lions team for instance, or the 2021 Bengals.

In Detroit, things looked bleak after a 1-6 start to the 2022 season. The team found more ways to lose than win and people started to wonder whether biting kneecaps was enough to win with Dan Campbell at the helm. But the Lions had a breakthrough near the halfway mark and finished the season on an 8-2 run. Now they’re NFC North champions and look like they have a real chance to fight for a conference title.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals hoped to build around Joe Burrow in 2020, but stumbled to a 2-10-1 record in his first season. But they won two out of their last three, drafted Ja’Marr Chase the following year, and made it to the Super Bowl at the end of the 2021 season.

Tremaine Edmunds said momentum from the back half of the 2018 season in Buffalo helped turn the Bills into the perennial playoff contenders that they are today.

“I think the biggest thing is just having fun,” Edmunds said. “That’s part of it, just having fun every day that you come to work. You can see guys feeding off one another.”

It’s clear that the Bears are having a blast. If the cigar and champagne celebration after their Week 17 win wasn’t evidence enough, the guys also enjoy busting each other’s chops about college football and things like that. Players walk across the room to hang out at different lockers. Vibes are high. You can feel it.

“You can tell if the ship is headed in the right direction and you’re improving,” said Tony Dungy on an episode of NBC Sports Chicago’s “Under Center Podcast” earlier this season.

The Hall of Fame coach knows first hand about how momentum can transform a team from his start as a head coach with the Buccaneers in 1996.

“They had 13-straight losing seasons before I got there,” Dungy said. “We were not very good and people were telling me not to take the job. The first game that year, we opened with Green Bay. Brett Favre and Reggie White. They beat us [34-3] at home, terrible game, we had no chance.”

In Week 9, the Bucs played the eventual Super Bowl Champion Packers again, this time at Lambeau. They still lost, but the score was a more reasonable 13-7.

“Both losses, they both count as Ls in the scorecard, but I told my team, ‘We are so much better now than we were in Week 1. Even though they’re both losses, we’re building something. We’re going somewhere.’”

The next year the Bucs went 5-0 to start the season and made it to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. They made the playoffs three more times between 1998-2001 and won the Super Bowl in 2002.

“You could see it coming and that’s what I’m hoping for the Bears,” Dungy said.

A step forward isn’t guaranteed for the Bears next season. Nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. They have big questions they need to answer about their quarterback and they still have many roster holes they need to fill. But a win against the Packers to close the season would send the team into the offseason with tangible momentum, and it would solidify the belief that the team is on the right track.

“Especially with the nucleus of your team, the draft picks you have, the free agents you have acquired,” said head coach Matt Eberflus. “There’s always that nucleus. Good teams have nucleuses of offenses, defenses and special teams and of their whole team. We’re starting to have that. So I do feel that building upon momentum is always important.”

“With the wins and the team camaraderie that we have going on, everybody’s just loving on each other,” said Fields. “Having that relationship with guys in the locker room, it feels like high school or college again… That’s what it feels like and it’s a great feeling.”

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