Week 17's matchup between the New York Giants and Chicago Bears pits two teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention, but one still has a vested interest in how the other finishes. The Bears (5-10) broke a three-game losing streak last Sunday with a come-from-behind win in Seattle while New York (4-11) dropped its fourth in a row, falling 34-10 at Philadelphia.
Both teams have shifted their focus more to next year, which could bring a coaching change for at least one of these teams. Also intriguing is the fact that the Giants own the Bears' first- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft as part of the trade (also included first- and fourth-round selections in the 2021 draft) that allowed Chicago to move up to draft Justin Fields back in late April.
Right now, based on record and other tiebreakers, the Bears' pick is slated to be seventh overall while the Giants have the fourth pick. Even with two games left, it's looking very likely that New York will have two high first-round picks to help with their rebuilding effort while Chicago, which also could have a new general manager in addition to head coach, won't have the luxury of as much draft capital.
New York Giants (4-11) at Chicago (5-10)
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 2 at 1 p.m ET
Spread: Bears -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
Nick Foles got the start for the Bears in Seattle last week, as both Justin Fields and Andy Dalton were out due to injury. Even though it was Foles' first start since Week 15 of last season, the 10-year veteran once again showed why he has staying power in the NFL.
He completed 24 of 35 passes for 205 yards, a touchdown, and, most importantly, no turnovers. He was sacked four times, but he came up big when it mattered most. With less than three minutes remaining in the game, he capped a six-play, 80-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, followed by a successful two-point conversion pass to Damiere Byrd. That put Chicago ahead 25-24 for the first time all game (trailed 17-7 more than halfway into the third quarter), and the defense made it hold up, forcing a turnover on downs on the Seahawks' next possession to seal the win. For Foles, it was the 13th regular-season comeback win of his career.
But Foles will be the backup on Sunday with head coach Matt Nagy announcing that Dalton will get the start against the Giants. Fields is improving but apparently not to the point where the coaching staff is comfortable putting him out there. For his part, Dalton is 2-2 as the starter this season (in six games) while throwing for 1,017 yards (64.1 percent completion rate), six touchdowns and six interceptions.
As for the Giants, their quarterback situation is up in the air, both for the remainder of this season and the future. Daniel Jones hasn't played since the Week 12 win over Philadephia because of a neck injury. His long-term status as New York's signal-caller has been a popular topic for both the media and fans alike, and the talk will only increase, especially with the team possessing two first-round picks in the upcoming draft. But for now, the focus is on finishing this season, which the Giants have done with using former Bear Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm, whom they signed off of Buffalo's practice squad on Dec. 1.
Despite all the criticism lobbed at Jones, his replacements have fared no better. Glennon and Fromm are 0-4 as the starter, combining for three touchdowns and seven interceptions in these games. Chances are head coach Joe Judge will give both signal-callers opportunities to lead the offense, as he's hoping one will be able to offer some sort of spark to a struggling unit.
2. Both defenses will need to step up
The quarterback uncertainty could be a good thing for one group. Both defenses in this matchup have had their struggles this season, particularly lately. Chicago surrendered a combined 302 rushing yards to Minnesota and Seattle the past two games, so even though New York has Saquon Barkley, the Bears could get a bit of break on the ground on Sunday. Barkley has struggled to re-discover his pre-injury form and isn't even leading his team in rushing (Devontae Booker is with 533 yards), as the Giants are averaging 95.5 yards per game on the ground. Chicago also will look to continue to add to its sack total (42, fourth in the NFL) against an offensive line that has surrendered 31 through 15 games. Overall, New York has had issues when it comes to both moving the ball (303.5 ypg) and putting points on the board (16.5 ppg), ranking 30th in both categories.
But the Bears aren't doing that much better on that side of the ball, so the Giants may be able to catch a break after giving up a total of 92 points over their last three games. Chicago is just slightly ahead of New York in both total (308.0 ypg, tied for 26th) and scoring (17.7 ppg, 28th) offense. If there's one thing the Bears have done fairly well this season it's run the ball, ranking eighth in the league (122.7 ypg) in that department. And that could be the key on Sunday with the Giants giving up 125.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks them 26th. (But again, the Bears aren't much better, ranking 25th against the run.)
So whether it's Barkley or Booker for the Giants or David Montgomery (team-leading 713 rushing yds., 5 TDs) or Khalil Herbert for the Bears, expect to see both teams try and establish the run early and often. So this one may come down to which side controls the line of scrimmage.
3. Head coaches under fire
Bears fans have been ready to move on from Nagy for quite some time now, and last week in Seattle displayed another example of why. His questionable play-calling and decision-making were once again at the forefront. Taking unnecessary chances on fourth down (1-for-3), especially in the red zone, and turning away from the run game after a big gain on the ground (five rushes for five yards or more), not to mention continued penalties (eight for 73 yards). In fact, it's safe to say that Chicago was the beneficiary of more than one fortuitous break during its eventual game-winning rally.
The biggest one may have come early in the fourth quarter. With the Bears down 24-14, Nagy went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Seattle 6. To the naked eye, it appeared that Foles was short on the quarterback sneak, but he got a generous spot (which the Seahawks challenged and were denied), and it eventually led to a Cairo Santos field goal to make it a seven-point game. Jason Myers missed a 39-yard field goal on Seattle's next possession (it was preceded by a big sack of Russell Wilson by Robert Quinn), which eventually led to Foles' game-winning drive, which was aided by a somewhat questionable roughing the passer penalty on the Seahawks' Darrell Taylor on the first play (tacked on to a 30-yard completion to Darnell Mooney).
The point is that Bears fans probably aren't willing to give Nagy much credit for winning last week. But Giants fans are feeling the same pain when it comes to Judge, who is 10-21 as he finishes up his second season at the helm. Offensive struggles have been a consistent issue during his tenure and even the defense seems to have taken a step back this season. But Judge's seat doesn't appear to be near as warm as Nagy's, who's wrapping up his fourth season in the Windy City.
One way or the other, both teams are headed for changes this offseason. Judge already signaled a new direction for the offense when he fired coordinator Jason Garrett in late November. How far these changes go remains to be seen, as well as who will be making the decisions.
It's too simplistic to say both teams are simply playing out the string, especially with the chatter surrounding the job security of both head coaches. What's clear is that both the Giants and the Bears have their share of issues on both sides of the ball. It starts at quarterback, although the reasons are different. Even though Fields appears likely to miss another game, Chicago is still in better shape with Dalton (or even Foles) compared to New York, and for that reason, the Bears will win a close one at home.
Prediction: Bears 20, Giants 14
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.