Inflection points are a concept typically taught in advanced math classes, but they also have an interesting place in the NFL describing shifts in momentum throughout a team’s season. The Chicago Bears have also experienced such inflection points, and for each of the past three years, it was a primetime matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Chicago Bears’ performance in primetime against L.A. has significantly impacted the trajectory of their season for the past three years.
In 2018, the Chicago Bears were 8-4 going into their matchup with the 11-1 Los Angeles Rams. The Bears were a good team but had yet to be taken seriously as playoff contenders by the national media. However, a 15-6 drubbing of the Rams under the lights on a cold, Sunday night in Chicago changed everything. The Bears rattled off three more wins to end the season and entered the playoffs as a dark horse to emerge from the NFC.
The loss to LA in 2019 was so bad, it marked the beginning of the end of the Mitchell Trubisky era for the Chicago Bears.
In 2019, the Chicago Bears were 4-5 going into their primetime matchup with a struggling Rams team that was 5-4. The Bears had a chance to get back to .500 and into the playoff race following an October slump that saw the team lose four straight games. However, they got embarrassed on national television, Trubisky got benched, and the team never recovered. They fell to 4-6 and the season was effectively over.
The Chicago Bears were humiliated by the Rams in 2020, kicking off a six-game losing streak.
Fast forward one more year to 2020. The Chicago Bears were officially in the Nick Foles era and coming off a win at Carolina. They were 5-1, the defense was playing well and the offense was finding their groove. However, once again, they were embarrassed by Sean McVay and the Rams on national television, starting a six-game losing streak that ended all hopes for playoff contention.
I know the Bears did end up finding their way to backslide into the playoffs, but their performance versus LA caused fans to realize that this team had a capped ceiling and that their 5-1 start to the season was more of a mirage than reality. This game, in my opinion, also firmly put Matt Nagy on the hot-seat as he got extremely outcoached by Sean McVay and was thrown under the bus by Nick Foles regarding his playcalling.
Now, in 2021, the Bears play the Rams in primetime to open their season. This has me extremely anxious as a Bears fan because I know how big a boost an opening day, primetime win, on the road, against LA would be for the team’s momentum. However, I also know the potential unraveling that could follow an ugly loss – especially if Nagy chooses to keep starting Dalton post-week 1 if he struggles against the Rams.
The Chicago Bears 2021 season trajectory will be decided in primetime against the Rams in only week one.
Look, I should highlight that the “real” inflection point for the Chicago Bears this season will actually be when Justin Fields comes in. However, my point in writing this is that for the past three seasons, the Bears matchup against LA has been so significant in determining the course of the season, that I believe their performance in LA this Sunday night will directly impact when Justin Fields comes in for this team and Nagy’s plan for his development.
If Dalton plays well enough and the Chicago Bears either barely win or barely lose, his leash gets longer. The Bears will continue to easily beat the lesser teams they’re more talented than, but they won’t be able to match up or compete with the NFC elite that all have top-level quarterback play. Ultimately, they’ll end up a fringe playoff team at best.
However, if Dalton struggles and the Bears get embarrassed for the THIRD straight year in LA, and Nagy decides to start Fields – who knows where this team will go and what they can accomplish because sparks like Fields don’t come around often. The last one the Chicago Bears had was the Khalil Mack trade and we all know what impact that had on their performance.
All in all, I anticipate this Sunday’s game to have monumental consequences for this Chicago Bears season. The Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams annual matchup has turned into a mini-rivalry over these past couple of seasons and even though it hasn’t been much of a rivalry in the win-loss column, the impact of this game on the outcome of the Bears season cannot be understated.