Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett celebrates after catching a four-yard touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
With their 38-31 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon, the Chicago Bears moved back into sole possession of first place in the NFC North division.
With an 8-6 record, the Bears moved ahead of the Detroit Lions, who will play the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. That game has big playoff implications for both teams, as the Lions will look to move back into a tie with the Bears (which would put Detroit in the playoffs since they won both meetings with Chicago this season), and the Ravens will be trying to jump back ahead of the Miami Dolphins, after they won the teams’ head-to-head matchup earlier this season.
As for the NFC playoff race, the Bears are going to have a tough time getting into the playoffs via the wild card. That’s because both the fifth and sixth seeded teams, the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49’ers respectively, have a 10-4 record, and would have to lose out and have the Bears win out for the teams to even finish in a tie. Even then, the Bears can’t jump the 49’ers, because San Francisco is guaranteed to have a better divisional record than Chicago.
As for the Panthers, they would have to lose their final two games against the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons for the Bears to even have a chance to pass them.
The Arizona Cardinals, owners of a 9-5 record, do have a chance to make a move in the standings if they can beat the 49’ers in Week 17, but a daunting matchup against the Seattle Seahawks looms in Week 16, and that could effectively end their chances at the wild card since their divisional record would take an unsustainable hit with a defeat.
The Dallas Cowboys are the only other team that could even come close to the wild card, but since the Bears beat them in a head-to-head matchup last week, they would be much better off trying to win out and hope that the Bears knock off the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
With those scenarios in mind, there is one thing abundantly clear about the Bears’ playoff chances: they have got to win the division if they are going to get into the playoffs. Too many things would have to break their way in order for them to get in via the wild card, so winning out and hoping that Detroit drops a game is just about the only way to go for the Bears at this point.
Looking at the schedule, it would appear that things slightly favor the Lions at this point. After their home game against the Ravens Monday night, the Lions have remaining games against the New York Giants (and King of the Interception Eli Manning) in Week 16 and a road game against the Minnesota Vikings to wrap up the season. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson seem to thrive on artificial turf, and without an outdoor game left on their schedule, they can be reasonably confident of a 3-0 or a 2-1 finish.
If the Lions win out, the Bears have no shot at the division title, but their schedule also complicates matters. Going into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday is going to be a daunting task for Chicago, as the Eagles have one of the league’s most explosive running games to go along with a much improved defense, and with LeSean McCoy likely running like a knife through butter against Chicago, it’s going to be a tough matchup to win for the Bears.
Even if the Bears can somehow pull off a victory in the City of Brotherly Love, a home date with the Green Bay Packers awaits as the last game of the season. The Packers, still alive thanks to a massive comeback against the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon, could very well get Aaron Rodgers back for their Week 16 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau, and if they can win that one, they will bring an 8-6-1 record into their Week 17 matchup with the Bears at Soldier Field.
If the Lions end up doing what they do best and falter down the stretch, then the Week 17 rivalry tilt between the Bears and Packers could wind up deciding the division.