When the Chicago Bears lost to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday afternoon, they did more than just embarrass themselves in a penalty-filled and mistake ridden affair. They also not only missed a glorious opportunity to both keep pace in the NFC playoff standings, but also to gain ground in their own division.
That’s because the Detroit Lions managed to lose to the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, and a Bears win would have vaulted them ahead of Detroit for the NFC North lead (and the home playoff game that comes with it). As it stands now, the two teams are tied at 6-5, but Detroit holds the tiebreaker over the Bears thanks to their sweep of the season series.
As for the Green Bay Packers, they will possibly be getting Aaron Rodgers back next week for their Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions, but this week wasn’t kind to them, as they only managed a tie against the Minnesota Vikings (the Bears’ Week 13 opponent) at Lambeau Field. That tie gives them a record of 5-5-1, putting them a half game behind the Bears and Lions in the division standings.
As if losing ground in the division wasn’t enough of a buzzkill for the Bears, they also fell further into the depths of the NFC Wild Card race. Going into the week in the eighth spot, the Bears dropped to 9th in the conference with their loss. The Dallas Cowboys’ surprising victory over the New York Giants moved them back into the NFC East lead, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 6-5 and had a bye this week, dropped to eighth, staying ahead of the Bears thanks to having a better winning percentage in games against the NFC (yet another reason why losing to the Rams hurts the Bears’ playoff chances).
The Arizona Cardinals also moved up into sixth in the standings temporarily after dismantling the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon. If the San Francisco 49ers can beat the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, the Cardinals would drop back to 7th in the NFC thanks to the 49ers owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Out of those teams that are currently fighting for the final four playoff spots (excluding the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints), the Bears have several things working against them. For starters, their 3-5 record against the NFC is the worst in the group, and even though they will have some good chances to get some of those losses back against the Vikings and Cowboys in the next two weeks, it will still be tough to catch back up to the teams that have better records than them.
Making matters worse, some of the other contenders are beginning to get healthier as the season wears on. In addition to Rodgers possibly coming back against the Lions next week, Detroit also got back Nate Burleson this week, and adding a quality second receiving option to complement Calvin Johnson is a big gain for them. Finally, the 49ers will be giving a fresh infusion of talent to their lagging pass offense as Michael Crabtree will likely be activated next week to help Colin Kaepernick.
Yes, the Bears do have some winnable games left, but with the amount of injuries that the team is still having to deal with, it seems unlikely that they will win the table and go 11-5. 10-6 might be good enough to win the NFC North, but a realistic expectation at this point would put the Bears at 9-7, and that would probably not be good enough to nab a wild card spot with so many teams in pursuit.