This post was originally published on December 2nd. After the choke job against San Francisco, we said goodbye to the “If They Finish 10-6” scenario – but will continue to update the standings under “If They Finish 9-7” until the Bears lose an 8th game.
Yes, the rumors are true. The Chicago Bears have a legit chance to make the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2010.
If they do, John Fox will do something only Paddy Driscoll and Georga Halas have done: Make the postseason their first year as head coach.
But everyone knows the chief unwritten rule(s) of making the NFL playoffs is “Win ten games and everything else will sort itself out. Win nine games and hope you made Santa’s nice list this year.”
So, after the Bears somehow lost to a team with Jim Tomsula as their head coach, Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, and Shaun Draughn at running back — they have to finish 4-0 and hope Santa forgets about Robbie Gould’s shenanigans.
The four-game closing stretch starts with a home game against Washington; then consecutive road dates in Tampa Bay and Minnesota to follow. Everybody’s least favorite NFC North team, the Detroit Lions, come to Soldier Field on January 3rd to wrap up the season.
If they don’t play like they did against the 49ers, 4-0 is completely doable. But it won’t be easy, and because of unspecified Roger Goodell reasons – the NFL has the most intense tiebreaker protocol of all time.
To map out precisely how the Bears can make the playoffs, we took a lengthy dive into the NFL standings and playoff tiebreaker procedures. The road map is based wholly on the Bears winning out, because if they go 8-8 they don’t deserve to make the playoffs anyway.
Ironically, John Fox has never completed a season of coaching at 9-7 – but has three separate 8-8 campaigns to his name.
So yeah, the Bears are a lock to go 8-8.
If The Bears Finish 9-7
The simplest and obviously best scenario. The Bears’ overall record would be 9-7, their conference record would be 6-6, and their record vs the NFC North would be 3-3 — splitting the season series with each opponent. Thanks to the NFL’s batshit crazy playoff rulebook, all those numbers are important.
With that in mind, here’s what the Bears need from everybody in front of them. I’ve left off the Cardinals and Panthers (mathematically impossible) because John Fox and the boys aren’t catching them.
*All teams are listed with their overall and conference records. Minnesota and Green Bay are special and get division records too.
3. Green Bay Packers (8-4, 6-3, 3-2): A) Finish 1-3 down the stretch, only beating the Cowboys or B) finish 0-4 down the stretch.
After Detroit handed Green Bay their eighth win last Thursday in Hail Rodgers-fashion, the Bears’ only chance of catching the Packers – barring an 0-4 collapse – rests on Minnesota winning in Green Bay the final week of the season.
4. Washington Redskins (5-7, 5-4): Lose to the Bears at Soldier Field on December 13th. That simple.
This only comes into play if the Redskins give up first in the NFC East. Which has approximately a 90% chance of happening.
5. Minnesota Vikings (8-5, 5-4, 3-1): Finish 1-2, only beating the Giants.
Under this hypothetical, the Vikings are already losing one game to the Bears in Week 15. If Minnesota also loses to Green Bay in Week 17, it would bring them dead even with the Bears in the first four NFL tie-breakers: Head-to-head record, division record, record vs. common opponents, and conference record.
At that point, the Bears’ strength of victory percentage (combined record of all opponents a team has beaten) will likely trump Minnesota’s – but it’s impossible to know for certain because there are four weeks left and lots of shit can change.
Depending how Green Bay finishes, this scenario would potentially lead to the Bears winning the NFC North title. Probably not, though.
Catching the Vikings, good enough for a wild-card berth as of this writing, is the likeliest path to the postseason.
6. Seattle Seahawks (7-5, 6-4): Finish 1-3 down the stretch.
Because the Seahawks beat the Bears in Week 3, they essentially own a two-game lead over them. That only leaves the obvious, unlikely scenario of Seattle finishing 8-8 or worse.
If Seattle goes 2-2 in their last four, then the Bears have to catch the Vikings or Packers to get into the playoffs — as well as get/stay ahead of the following four teams.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6, 5-3): Lose to the Bears at home (a.k.a. the Lovie Bowl) on December 27th. That simple.
The Bucs leapfrogged Atlanta after their head-to-head victory Sunday, and now the Bears’ trip to Tampa in Week 16 doesn’t sound so lovely. If things play out right, this could be a de facto play-in game.
8. Atlanta Falcons (6-6, 4-5): A) Finish 3-1 without losing to the Jaguars or B) finish 2-2 down the stretch.
If Atlanta gets to 9-7, their seventh loss needs to come against one of three remaining NFC opponents and not in Week 15 to Jacksonville. That would create a tie in conference records (6-6 each), and the Bears would pass Atlanta thanks to a better record in common games.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7, 3-6): Nothing.
Philly enters the fray after their shocking victory over New England. Kind of.
Even if the Eagles win out, the Bears would get in over them via a superior record in common games.
10. New York Giants (5-7, 4-5): Finish 3-1 or worse down the stretch.
If both the Giants and Bears finish 9-7, New York would be slotted ahead due to a 7-5 conference record.