Sitting in first place in the NFC North, the Chicago Bears are one of the NFL teams lucky enough to hold their own playoff destiny in their hands going into the final two weeks of the season.
With the Detroit Lions currently sitting a game back and the Green Bay Packers a half game behind the Bears, there is a scenario for Chicago to have a chance to clinch the North on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. If the Lions fall to the New York Giants AND the Packers lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, then a Bears win in Philly would give them a playoff spot.
There is, however, a scenario in which Sunday’s game could be completely meaningless to the Bears. If the Lions lose and the Packers win, it would eliminate Detroit from the playoffs, meaning that the Week 17 game between Green Bay and Chicago would decide the division regardless of the outcome of the Bears’ game against the Eagles. Whether the Bears drop to 8-7 or improve their record to 9-6, they would still have to beat Green Bay, who would sit at 8-6-1 with a victory over the Steelers at Lambeau Field.
Asked whether or not he would change his approach if the Bears couldn’t improve their standing in the division, Marc Trestman admitted he hadn’t given much thought to the question:
Trestman says he hasn’t thought about potentially resting his players if Lions & Packers results make Sunday night’s game meaningless. — Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) December 18, 2013
There is still an argument to be made that a victory over Philadelphia could potentially help the Bears move into the third or fourth seed in the NFC, but if they win the division, it doesn’t really matter which team they would play in the first round. The game would be at home, and it would be against a tough-as-nails defense, with either the Carolina Panthers or San Francisco 49’ers being the likely opponent.
In addition to that, the game plan being installed for this week will undoubtedly have all of the starters in mind, and Trestman isn't going to want to throw away all that work just to give his players a half off. Jay Cutler is still trying to work through any residual rust that he may have after playing his first game in over a month against the Browns on Sunday, and guys like Lance Briggs, who is expected to play Sunday, would be in a similar boat.
Benching those players, even if it's just for two quarters, would be a silly decision for Trestman, as he wouldn't want them relaxing too much with another critical game coming up next week against the Packers.
If the Arizona Cardinals could somehow sneak into the playoffs, that would be about the only scenario in which the Bears would actually benefit from having the higher seed.