The Chicago Bears’ ugly victory over the Detroit Lions in Week 12’s Thanksgiving snoozefest won’t be confused as a signature win anytime soon, but it was a critical outcome for a team that’s somehow still alive in the NFC playoff picture.
Yes, you read that right. The 4-7 Bears, led by a head coach who’s on the hottest of hot seats are, as they say, ‘in the hunt.’ Technically, Chicago is 14th out of 16 teams in the NFC playoff standings, but that slotting is a bit misleading. The NFC is a traffic jam of mediocrity, with eight teams separated by just one game (5-6 or 4-7). Is it impressive that the Bears are in this cluster of clubs that still have a pulse? No. But the Bears do… have a pulse.
The odds seem stacked against the Bears playing football in mid-January, but there’s at least a chance. That chance will only last as long as they win the next game on their schedule—six times—until the regular season comes to a close. And a glance at Chicago’s remaining games creates a murky if not downright depressing outlook.
Up next is a showdown against the current No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals, who at 9-2 own the NFL’s best record. So, yeah, the Bears could have the door slammed on their playoff hopes in just a few days. If they win? It’s on to a Sunday night game at Lambeau Field against—you guessed it—the No. 2 seed in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers. Not an ideal two-game stretch for a team that’s nearly flatlining.
Here’s the thing, though. If the Bears actually pull off two wins and get to 6-7 while beating the top two seeds in the NFC? Momentum will be very real leading into the first of two games against the Minnesota Vikings, who currently own the seventh and final playoff spot. Toppling the Vikings en route to evening their record to 7-7 should result in Chicago being the final wild-card team; at least, they’ll be knocking on the door before winnable games against the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants. The Bears close their season with a finale against Minnesota.
Winning out means a 10-7 finish for Chicago. Let’s get real, though: that isn’t going to happen. A best-case scenario in the games against the Cardinals and Packers is a 1-1 split. That’d be a huge moral victory. Next, it’s really difficult to sweep a division foe, and the Vikings are a quality team. A split is the most likely outcome there, too. If all goes well, the Bears could potentially finish the year 8-9, which in a 17-game season that includes a seventh wild-card, makes it impossible to predict whether that’ll be good enough to sneak into the tournament.
And remember: if the Bears go 4-2 and finish one game below .500, they’re going to need help via losses to the seven teams currently slotted above them over the next six weeks. They play the Giants (who rank 13th) and Vikings twice, so they’ll have some control over their own destiny with those teams. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints (the eighth and ninth seeds) play each other in Week 18, so one of those clubs will suffer at least one loss. The Falcons have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, and Buffalo Bills on their schedule too, so their path to the playoffs won’t be an easy one. The Saints? They have games against the Dallas Cowboys and Buccaneers. Those could easily be two losses.
The Philadelphia Eagles (5-7, 10th in the standings) are ahead of Chicago right now too, but their schedule is much more favorable. Aside from a Week 18 game against the Cowboys, they face the Jets, Washington (twice), and the Giants. A 5-1 finish is within the range of outcomes for Philadelphia, and that’d be terrible for the Bears.
The other two teams ‘in the hunt’ for the seventh seed are the Football Team and the Giants, neither of which are in a better position to make a late-season push than the Bears. Washington has the Las Vegas Raiders—a tough out—and Cowboys twice, and New York has the Los Angeles Chargers and Cowboys on their schedule in addition to Chicago.
There’s a lot of football left to be played and maybe it’s nothing more than wishful thinking by Bears fans who think Chicago can make a run over the next 1.5 months. Matt Nagy, after all, is still the team’s head coach, and it’s borderline insane—i.e., expecting different results than what Nagy’s produced over nearly four years on the job—to think Chicago will suddenly right their slowly sinking ship and salvage what feels like an already lost season. Chicago barely beat the winless Lions in a Week 12 game that likely saved Nagy’s job… for now. But it wasn’t an impressive win and certainly didn't feel like it was enough to save the Bears’ season. At least, not yet.
In reality, Chicago’s playoffs have already begun. They’re entering a series of one-game playoffs until Week 18, and if they’re still alive when wild-card weekend rolls around? Well, that’d be something.
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