If this was 2018, tonight’s matchup in Los Angeles would feature a couple division leaders headed to the playoffs. But, alas, it is 2019, and both the Rams and Chicago Bears are playing seasons in which the motivation entering the campaign from a year-to-year perspective were against them.
The Bears won the NFC North Division last year after finishing in last place the prior four seasons. When a team has a breakthrough campaign like that, a big winner after years of futility, the following season is almost always a downer. The reason for this is both physical and motivational.
The Bears success last year, under first-year head coach Matt Nagy, was generated off the boost of looking to appease for recent down years. But, once a team has a successful campaign, the motivation is no longer spiked by the need to overcome, but rather flattened by the prospect of matching or exceeding their prior season.
It is much easier to accomplish while pushing off failure, than trying to extend a winning mode with a talented team that is inexperienced at winning. The Bears will win in the near future, probably next year, as long as the organization doesn’t panic like the Oakland Raiders did three years ago.
In 2016, Oakland Head Coach Jack Del Rio had his hard work pay off and lifted the Raiders from an also ran to a playoff team. Unfortunately, on Christmas eve of that season, their prize quarterback, Derek Carr, was injured and lost for the final week of the regular campaign and playoffs.
Without him, the Raiders prospects turned from bright to dim, and they lost their only postseason game while underhanded against the Houston Texans. The following season, the Raiders experienced the predictable off-year, but instead of biting the bullet and know that better days were to come, the Raiders blew up what they had. They fired Del Rio, who had shifted the context for the better in Oakland and reaped the benefits in 2016, and didn’t allow him to complete the job he had so masterfully started in his short tenure as Oakland’s head coach.
Team owner Mark Davis pulled the plug on what he had in hopes he could recapture the magic that his Dad, Al Davis, had only achieved briefly in his last final twenty years at the helm, those few bright seasons and playoff appearances at the turn of the century when Jon Gruden leading the Raiders on the field.
The return of Gruden, in a year Oakland would have rebounded from their predictable down year in 2017, was a disaster. The Raiders won only three games, but in that scuffle got to draft high and build a team in Gruden’s image.
This year, they are in the playoff mix, while the Bears and Rams suffer through seasons that are predictably down years for both franchises.
The Rams problems are delayed one year. Like the Bears, the Rams enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2017 with a division title after years of inept play. If they would have gone by script, we could have expected Los Angeles to have an off-year last season.
Instead the Rams bounced off their breakthrough campaign with a Super Bowl appearance.
How did they do that?
In all honesty, I don’t know.
But this season, they are playing with the double whammy of not paying the prices last year and coming off a season in which they lost the Super Bowl. The team that loses the prior Super Bowl historically has trouble, and the Rams are going through those expected problems this year.
Last season, the Rams success was based on an offense that piled up 527 points enroute to the NFC Championship. This year, Los Angeles comes into action today having gone 18 offensive possessions without scoring a touchdown.
So, we have two teams enduring difficult years. One of them has to win tonight, and I’d be surprised if either were to surpass the point spread, which had the Rams open as an eight point favorite on a line that has now been shaved to six points.
The Bears with a cut point spread is not a good play, and neither are the Rams as a home favorite in a down season. Which leaves us skipping this game while looking forward to the matchup tomorrow night from Mexico when the Kansas City Chiefs battle their AFC West rival Los Angeles Chargers.