In Week 13, the Bears beat the 49ers in a game that seemed utterly meaningless: Chicago entered the game 2-9, San Francisco entered the game 1-10, and neither team had anything to play for.
But it turned out to be a very meaningful game: The 49ers finished the season 2-14 and had the second overall pick in the draft, while the Bears finished the season 3-13 and had the third overall pick. If the 49ers had beaten the Bears, those records and draft orders would be reversed. And the Bears’ trade up from No. 3 to No. 2 for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky never would have happened.
As it turned out, the Bears sent their third-round pick this year, their fourth-round pick this year and their third-round pick next year to San Francisco just to move up to a draft spot that would have belonged to the Bears if only the Bears hadn’t beaten the 49ers in Week 13.
NFL teams keep playing hard even if the season is lost. Even the Browns, last year’s worst team, won in Week 16 and took the Steelers to overtime in Week 17 in a season finale that could have cost Cleveland the first overall pick with a win. But sometimes teams would be better off losing. The Bears would undoubtedly be better off today if they had lost that meaningless game in December.