When the Chicago Bears battle the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field, there will be much more than just one game in a 16-game NFL schedule on the line for the team.
The Bears will be attempting to not only start their season with an 2-0 record for the first time since 2010, but they will also be trying to leave the Vikings with a 0-2 record, a mark that would leave Minnesota with a mere 12 percent chance of making the postseason. It would be a fitting bit of revenge for the Bears, since it was the Vikings who kept them out of the postseason in 2012, leading to the ouster of mainstays like head coach Lovie Smith and veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher.
The 2-0 mark also has significant meaning to the Bears for similar reasons. Since 1990, teams that have started the season 2-0 have made the playoffs 63% of the time. Obviously that's far from a sure thing, but in the rough and tumble NFC, that mark is a great stepping stone toward bigger and better things.
As for the Bears themselves, 2-0 has had very positive connotations for them in recent years. In fact, the last two times that the Bears have started out with that mark, they have made it all the way to Super Bowl XLI (2006), and the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers (2010). There is no guarantee that they would have similar results this season in a loaded conference (whereas in those two campaigns, it can be argued that the AFC was the superior conference), but it is still a source of optimism for a team that is establishing a new identity under new head coach Marc Trestman.
Moving back to the implications against the Vikings, the matchup is also important from a tiebreaking perspective. The Bears and Vikings both finished last season 10-6, but it was Minnesota that snared the final playoff spot because they had a superior divisional record than the Bears did, finishing 4-2 while Chicago was 3-3. A Bears win Sunday would not only give Chicago a 1-0 record in division to start the year, but it would also saddle the Vikings with an 0-2 mark in the NFC North, as they lost to the Detroit Lions last week.
Putting an opponent behind the 8-ball so early in the season is a tremendous opportunity that cannot be ignored, and surely the Bears players know this. Even if they are to lose the game, however, it isn't like their season would be completely doomed anyway.
We already alluded to the 41% chance of making the playoffs for teams that start the year 1-1, but for the Bears, they still would have a good chance of bouncing back next week, as they take to the road for the first time this season when they travel to Pittsburgh to battle the Steelers. Normally, this would be considered a tough matchup, and no NFL matchup is ever a true cakewalk, but with a struggling offensive line and no running game to speak of, the Steelers are definitely not the team that they used to be, and the Bears could bounce back easily if they fall Sunday.
With an 11-1 record at home since 2001, the Bears have confidence on their side, and they also have the boost of playing a game against a team that prevented them from making the playoffs a year ago. It is a good combination for Bears fans seeking a reason to be optimistic in going against one of the best players in the league, and Sunday's battle on the lakefront should be a fascinating one.