When the Chicago Bears dropped a 21-19 heartbreaker to the Detroit Lions on Sunday afternoon, they did more than just disappoint fans who were hungry for revenge for the Lions’ Week 4 win over the Bears. They also dropped into eighth place in the NFC, with the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals both jumping ahead of them for the final wild card spot.
To make matters worse, the Bears now trail the Lions by the equivalent of two games, since they would lose a tiebreaker with Detroit thanks to the Lions’ season sweep of the Bears. Add to that the injury issues that Jay Cutler is continuing to experience, as well as losing Charles Tillman for the season, and you have reason for some serious doubts as to whether or not the Bears can climb back into the NFC playoff race.
Injury concerns aren’t the only ones facing the Bears as they scramble for a playoff berth. For one thing, their remaining schedule may appear to be littered with easy wins, but with every week, it’s appearing more complicated than that. For instance, the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams, the Bears’ next two opponents, have ridiculously effective pass rushes, with the Ravens relying on a team model and the Rams featuring Chris Long, Kyle’s brother, as a serial pass disrupter.
Those two games may be circled by some as relatively easy “W’s” for the Bears, but against an offensive line that has struggled a bit recently, they could prove disastrous.
In addition to those two games, the Bears have a couple of games remaining against NFC East foes that could prove problematic. The Dallas Cowboys are a team that no one can quite get a read on, as they will look fantastic one week and then completely terrible the next. On December 22nd, the Bears will also have to travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, and their offense has been one of the most potent in the league in recent weeks thanks to the rushing exploits of LeSean McCoy and the precise passing of Nick Foles (who has thrown 16 TD’s and no interceptions this season).
Finally, the Bears wrap up their season on December 29th against the Green Bay Packers, who will in all likelihood have Aaron Rodgers back by that point, and will probably be hellbent on getting revenge on the Bears for their Week 9 victory at Lambeau Field.
The Bears’ remaining schedule isn’t all that stands in their way of getting into the playoffs. The teams that they are chasing each have their own strengths that will complicate the chase for the sixth spot. The Carolina Panthers may have been a doormat in recent years, but with Cam Newton returning to form and with arguably the top front seven in the NFL right now (they are allowing less than 12 points per game in their recent five game winning streak), the Bears will have to hope that the Panthers stumble in two late season games against the New Orleans Saints.
As for the San Francisco 49ers (currently in 6th place), the road to the playoffs is just as tough as the Bears’. They do have the Seattle Seahawks at home, and have games on the slate against Tampa bay and Atlanta, but road games against the Saints and the Cardinals are going to be huge for them if they are going to stay in the wild card race.
Those Cardinals are worth keeping an eye on as well. They do have to travel East twice to play the Jaguars and Eagles, and they do have to play the Seahawks on the road, but with how well they’ve played at times this season, it’s hard to rule them out as a contender.
All things considered though, the Bears do have their own playoff destiny in their hands. Teams that make the postseason have to win tough games in order to get there, and the Bears are the only people that can take care of their current predicaments. Whether it’s Josh McCown stepping up and guiding the Bears forward without Cutler this week, or the defensive line trying to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Bears know the formula to succeed moving forward. For now, it’s just a matter of getting the chemistry right.