Emma's Tailgater: Bears' present, future at stake against Packers in pivotal regular-season finale

The Bears can secure a playoff berth Sunday or enter an uncertain offseason.

(670 The Score) So, it all comes down to this.

If the Bears beat the Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday, they'll be in the playoffs. They would legitimize a winning season by beating their arch rivals. And they'll have almost certainly saved the job of coach Matt Nagy, a man on the hot seat just a few weeks ago.

It's all on the line Sunday in a high-stakes game that may well define a topsy-turvy 2020 season for the Bears (8-7), who started 5-1, then lost six straight games and are now suddenly seeking a fourth straight win to close out the regular season.

All that's standing in the Bears' way is MVP front-runner Aaron Rodgers and his 12-3 Packers, who are seeking the sole first-round bye in the NFC playoff bracket and the right to host at Lambeau Field.

For the Bears, just getting to this stage is an accomplishment in its own right. Chicago fell to 5-6 with an ugly 41-25 loss at Green Bay on Nov. 29. At the time, Nagy thought that was the low point for his team. A week later, the Bears then blew a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter of a 34-30 loss to the lowly Lions, and Nagy discovered rock bottom was even lower. It also seemed sure that the Bears' regular-season finale would be insignificant -- and that Nagy could be fired on "Black Monday" in the NFL.

Sunday will tell us a lot about Nagy's Bears, who have won three straight games by beating poor competition in the Texans (4-11), Vikings (6-9) and Jaguars (1-14). A victory against Rodgers and the Packers would change the tone of this late-season streak and prove the surge was for real.

Of course, Rodgers and the Packers have had the Bears' number. It's why there's a feeling of dread for many in Chicago looking toward Sunday. It reminds of 2013, when the 8-7 Bears needed a victory against the Packers to clinch a playoff berth, only to watch Rodgers throw his famous -- or "infamous" for those in Chicago -- fourth-and-8 touchdown bomb to Randall Cobb in the final minute. It was a dagger in the hearts of the Bears.

What would a loss mean this time for the Bears? It would leave their playoff hopes in the Rams' hands. If the Bears lose, they'd still reach the playoffs if the Rams defeat the Cardinals their pivotal matchup. They'd be left home if the Cardinals were to win in that scenario.

In the bigger picture, a Bears loss would leave a feeling of emptiness in this season. A loss would mark a second straight 8-8 season for the Bears and leave them still wondering what they are. They would head into the offseason with uncertainty at quarterback while facing the challenge of upgrading their roster with little salary cap flexibility.

Losing would also call into question the job security of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace once more and leave Bears chairman George McCaskey evaluating his team's future with a sour taste.

The result of Sunday could have massive long-term ramifications for the Bears, whose 2020 season -- and so much of their future -- comes down to Week 17.

Open field: Why the Bears should re-sign Robinson
When the Bears' contract extension discussions with top receiver Allen Robinson broke down in September, it was in large part because of the team's doubt that he could sustain elite-level production.

Robinson had a breakthrough 2019 season in which he hauled in a career-best 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns. Still, the Bears weren't ready to make a lucrative investment in a player who hadn't done that repeatedly. They wanted to see him do it again.

With one game remaining, the 27-year-old Robinson has surpassed his 2019 numbers with 100 catches for 1,213 yards. He's also one touchdown shy of matching the seven he had last season.

Robinson has proved himself as one of the top receivers in the NFL, and the Bears must now respect that at the bargaining table. For an offense that finally made a breakthrough late in the season, losing Robinson would be devastating. The Bears need to make it a priority to retain Robinson this offseason.

It will be challenging for Pace -- or whoever may be leading the Bears' front office -- to retain Robinson while up against the salary cap. Robinson has set a firm floor of $20 million annually thanks to his play this season and has perhaps earned even more. That $20-million annual figure was what Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper and later Chargers receiver Keenan Allen received on long-term deals with their respective teams in 2020.

Robinson, Cooper and Allen have all produced at a similar high level this season, with Robinson's numbers being slightly better in some regards. Cooper has 86 catches for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns, while Allen has 100 catches for 992 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Bears can't afford to lose Robinson, as that would leave Darnell Mooney as their top receiver entering 2021. Whether it's Mitchell Trubisky or somebody else at quarterback, the absence of Robinson would set back an offense that's finally making strides -- and let down a defense heading toward the end of its shelf life.

Robinson has earned a lucrative future, and the Bears need to bring him back.

4-down territory

1.) Motivation high in Halas Hall
The Bears have video boards lining the players' entrance into Halas Hall, which are often lit with images of franchise fame. This week, they've served as bulletin board material.

Those boards have been illuminated with messages of perceived trash talk from the Packers, including Rodgers commenting after Green Bay's win on Nov. 29, "I love beating Chicago." Green Bay tackle David Bahktiari also told 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee that the Packers hope to "beat the piss out of the Chicago Bears."

The Bears plan to use that as motivation.

"We take heat to the disrespect they've been throwing," safety Eddie Jackson said. "Right now, there's no more talking.

"And you know with them scoring 40 points on us and the type of game we played where people said we gave up -- and now the tables have turned. We are facing them with everything to lose for the last game of the regular season to get into the playoffs. So it's no better feeling, it's nothing that aligns greater.

"We are ready. It's enough talking. There's no more of that."

2.) Mitch's Chicago farewell?
Sunday could mark Trubisky's final game with the Bears, as he's set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

"I won't be thinking about that, no," Trubisky said. "I'll be locked in, ready to go for the game. I'm excited about the opportunity."

Trubisky has played well enough in his second stint as the Bears' starting quarterback this season to perhaps earn a second contract in Chicago or an opportunity elsewhere, at the least. Looking back, he views the trials and tribulations of 2020 campaign as a benefit.

"Everything that I've experienced this season has just made me stronger," Trubisky said. "A better person and player."

3.) Aaron's appreciation
Though he may never dine for free in Chicago, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers enjoys playing at Soldier Field -- when it's filled with fans. Playing a big game against the Bears in an empty Soldier Field won't feel the same though, Rodgers said.

"It would be a lot more fun, candidly, with fans there," Rodgers said. "I have an appreciation for those fans. It's a great sports town. I've really enjoyed playing there over the years."

4.) 'We'll leave it at that'
Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet, a St. Viator High School product, wouldn't say if he grew up hating the Packers, but he sure didn't like them.

"There was no green or yellow in my house," Kmet said. "We'll leave it at that."

Quote to note
"This is our last guaranteed one. The chips are all in. We don’t want to leave any stones unturned.”
-- Allen Robinson on the Bears' regular-season finale

Injury report
WR Allen Robinson (hamstring) -- The Bears have taken extra precautions with Robinson, who has been dealing with this hamstring ailment recently. It didn't slow him down in a 10-catch game last Sunday in Jacksonville.

OLB Khalil Mack (shoulder) -- Mack has been dealing with a lingering shoulder issue in recent weeks. He has often taken time off during the week before getting himself ready to play on Sundays.

DL Akiem Hicks (illness) -- The Bears haven't placed Hicks or any other players on the COVID-19/reserve list this week, so this appears to be an illness unrelated to the coronavirus.

CB Jaylon Johnson (right shoulder) -- If Johnson can play after missing the past two games, it will be with little time to prepare against the high-octane Packers offense.

CB Buster Skrine (concussion) -- Skrine has until Sunday to be cleared from the concussion protocol or he'll miss his fourth straight game. The Bears have expressed concern about his long-term health given his concussion history.

DB Deon Bush (foot) -- Getting Bush back would allow the Bears to be more flexible in mixing their nickel and dime packages against the Packers.

​Prediction (10-5): Packers 28, Bears 27
Rodgers and the Packers will be just a point better than the Bears, leaving Chicago scoreboard watching the Rams-Cardinals game in its hopes of reaching the playoffs.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo/USA Today Sports