Because the Bears played on Thursday, in lieu of my weekly, Sunday game breakdown, I will be analyzing games that have meaning to the Bears and their season, and ranking their importance.
Game: Minnesota at Arizona
Explanation: More important than a possible wild card shot, the Bears have a chance to win the division, but only if the Vikings lose two of their last three games. This is a good start as the Cardinals’ passing attack poses problems for Minnesota’s pass defense. A lot of people will try to tell you that because the Cardinals wrapped up the division title last week, that they’ll not play as hard this week. That’s not true. The Cardinals and Vikings are both tied and the winner of this game will likely get the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. With that seed, they play the No. 2 wild card — who will probably be an easier opponent than the No. 1 wild card — and if they win in the first round of the playoffs, they will not have to play the No. 1 seed in Round 2. In short, Arizona will be playing this game as if it were the postseason.
Game: Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Explanation: There was point in this season when it seemed impossible for the Bears to win the wild card. While it’s still murky, believe it or not, the Bears still have a shot at doing just that. If both the Falcons and Cowboys lose today — and both have tough opponents — then the Bears suddenly find themselves in a three-way tie for the second wild card while still competing for the division title. Because the Falcons beat the Bears in Week 6 — cover your ears: thanks to a bad squib kick, poor coverage on an intermediate sideline pass, and a 48-yard field goal by 56-year-old Jason Elam — the Falcons hold the tiebreaker over the Bears. But, at least the Bears would have two games left to try to overtake them. The problem is that the Bears would need Atlanta to knock off Minnesota next week for the division race.
Game: New York Giants at Dallas
Explanation: A continuation of the previous explanation, the Bears need the Cowboys to lose to have any shot at the wild card. I actually predicted the Cowboys to win this one at home, even though the Giants are a better ball club. The reason is because they’re still a talented team despite the infighting going on, and the Giants will be without Brandon Jacobs. But there’s still a shot the Giants could win and drop the Cowboys to 8-6, tied with the Bears.
Game: Washington at Cincinnati
Explanation: The Redskins almost have a gimme game this week against a bad Bengals team, but maybe Cincinnati can pull off an upset. They did tie the Eagles earlier this season, after all. The Redskins have a 7-6 record and if they win, they’ll be tied with the Bears. Because conference record will be taken into effect — the first is obviously head-to-head, which didn’t happen between the Bears and Redskins — Washington is 6-4 and the Bears are 6-5, so the Bears would need some help the rest of the way.
Game: Cleveland at Philadelphia
Explanation: The Bears hold the tiebreaker over Philadelphia because they beat them in Week 4 earlier this season, but it’d be nice to eliminate them from the playoff picture altogether. That’s not likely to happen, though, as Cleveland is borderline terrible, and, at best, bad. If Philadelphia wins, they actually would be a step ahead of the other pack of 8-6 teams, because with a 8-5-1 record, their winning percentage would be better. Complicating matters, the three teams that the Bears need to lose the rest of the way all play each other. The Eagles still have matchups against the Redskins and Cowboys the last two weeks.
Game: Green Bay at Jacksonville
Explanation: I was contemplating putting this as having a high importance level, simply because it’s the Packers, but in reality, nothing in this game really affects the Bears. Sure, we’d like to see them lose, and because they’re our bitter rivals, that’s the reason they make this list. But, they’re out of the wild card hunt with a 4-6 conference record, and the only way they win the division is if they win out and the Bears and Vikings lose out. All three teams would be 8-8, but the Packers would have a 5-1 division record. That’s not going to happen.
Game: Detroit at Indianapolis
Explanation: The No. 6 tiebreaker for the wild card is strength of schedule. It’s not likely that rule will be needed, but if so, the Falcons, Cowboys, and Redskins did not play the Colts and the Bears need Indianapolis, who they beat in Week 1, to get every victory it can. Besides, it’s always nice to see a division opponent heading for an NFL-record 0-16 season.
Game: Denver at Carolina
Explanation: Just like the previous game, it’s not likely that the strength of schedule will come into play, but if it does, the Bears need Carolina to win. Atlanta obviously played Carolina — twice — but Dallas, Washington, and Philadelphia did not.