To Play or Not to PlayToday, the Chicago Bears (11-4) take the gridiron for their final regular season game of the 2010-2011 schedule. Who else do they play other than their longtime division rivals, the Green Bay Packers (9-6). A few weeks ago, the Bears secured a playoff spot when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings and were crowned the NFC North Division champions. When the Vikings upset the Philadelphia Eagles last week (on a Tuesday night), the Bears were guaranteed at least the second seed in the NFC playoffs and secured a bye in the first round of the playoffs. If the Atlanta Falcons (12-3) somehow lose to the Carolina Panthers (2-13), and the Bears defeat the Packers, the Bears will be the first seed and have the home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That being said, do they play their starters?
Around this time each season, NFL teams debate whether or not to play their starters. With the playoffs starting next weekend, teams will consider resting their stars and minimizing potential injuries. Of course, the Bears are guaranteed a bye week so they will not play until the weekend of January 15-16. If they opt to bench their starters, or give them limited playing time, they will have essentially two weeks off. Is that too much rest? Will that create the potential for rustiness and a chance to get bounced after one playoff game?
The Green Bay Packers are not guaranteed a playoff spot yet. They need a win this afternoon to secure a spot in the postseason. Their goal is simple. Win and they are in. What type of opponent can they expect today? With the Bears run full steam ahead in an effort to eliminate a team from the postseason? Will the Bears go through the motions and let the Packers win? Since the Falcons/Panthers game is an early start, by kickoff of the Bears/Packers game, the Bears will know if they have a legitimate shot at the number one seed.
I'm not certain about the proper course of action. I'm leaning toward playing the starters in the first half and then playing the second and third string. Perhaps they can shut down the Packers, get a comfortable lead and coast into the bye week and look ahead to their potential playoff contenders.
On a side note, the NFC West Division could send a team with a losing record to the playoffs. Tonight, the St. Louis Rams (7-8) battle the Seattle Seahawks (6-9). The winner of this game will be the division champion. If St. Louis wins, they be .500 at 8-8. If Seattle wins, they'll be 7-9.