NFL: How the Chicago Bears Can Still Make the Playoffs

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

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The Chicago Bears’ record sits at 5-6 after their surprise victory in Green Bay on Thanksgiving, which was their first win in a game that Aaron Rodgers finished on the Packers home turf (the Bears won a 2013 match up in which Rodgers broke his collar bone and exited the game). The win was big for Bears fans, because the Packers are their hated rivals from the north and the more successful of the two teams over the last few decades.

But it was also big for the Bears as an organization because it brought them to within just one game of the final playoff spot in the NFC. Most experts had the Bears pegged as one of the worst teams in the NFL coming into the season, and they were right to think so. The Bears won just six games under Marc Trestman last season, leading to an overhaul of their coaching staff and front office. Under new head coach, John Fox, the Bears look surprisingly competent.

But one game out of a playoff spot with five games remaining on the schedule is a more daunting task than it might sound. Realistically, the Bears need to go at least 4-1 in their final five games — allowing for only a loss against the Vikings on the road — and finish 9-7 if they want to make the playoffs. Here are the other teams involved in the playoff chase and how things need to shake out for the Bears to be the last team standing.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks

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The Seahawks currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot with a 6-5 record, and they also hold the tiebreaker over the Bears after beating them earlier this season in their only head-to-head matchup. Put simply, if the Bears finish 9-7, the Seahawks cannot finish better than 8-8. Hoping the two-time NFC champion Seahawks will close out the season 2-3 is a stretch, for sure.

The good news is that this is still possible. The Seahawks still have road games against the Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, and Arizona Cardinals, as well as home games against the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams. It’s not an extremely tough schedule, but losses to the 8-3 Vikings and 9-2 Cardinals, plus just one loss to another team, would seal the deal for the Bears.

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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The Falcons are 6-5 on the season and their remaining schedule contains four conference opponents, which is important because the conference record is the first tiebreaker if no head-to-head record is available. Two of the four games for the Falcons are against the undefeated Carolina Panthers, which is a major uphill battle for Atlanta. If the Falcons win one and lose one, which is generous considering that we’re talking about an opponent that is currently 11-0, the Bears have a great chance against the Falcons in the standings.

That’s because the Falcons also play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — who are also on this list. If the Falcons lose to the Bucs, as well as one of the games against the Panthers, the best the Falcons could hope for is 9-7. The Bears and Falcons would finish with the same conference record, as well, necessitating the next tiebreaker to be used, which is the record in common games between the two teams. If this scenario unfolds, the Bears would hold the advantage.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Speaking of the Buccaneers, they have the same 5-6 record as the Bears, with a huge game against the Monsters of the Midway at home later this season. It’s not very complicated for the Bears to surpass the Buccaneers in the standings, just by doing some simple math. If the Bears go 4-1 and beat the Bucs in Tampa, even a perfect record outside of that game couldn’t help the Buccaneers move past Chicago in the standings.

Another scenario works, as well. If the Bears lose the game against the Buccaneers but win the rest of their games, they would simply need Tampa Bay to lose to either the New Orleans Saints at home or the Rams on the road, as well as the Panthers on the road in the season finale.

New York Giants

Eli Manning, New York Giants

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The Giants are in a virtual tie with the Washington Redskins for first place in the NFC East, with both teams sitting at 5-6. It’s unlikely that both teams will finish 9-7 or better, and given that the Bears have a head-to-head game remaining with Washington that they need to win in pretty much any scenario, the Giants are the only one of the two that we need to concern ourselves with.

The Giants’ remaining schedule has the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, and Panthers at home with the Miami Dolphins and Vikings on the road. The conference record is what’s really important between the Bears and Giants, as far as the tiebreaker is concerned. The Giants have a 4-5 conference record as of now and will likely hold the common games tiebreaker over the Bears, who can’t finish better than 6-6 in conference games with a 9-7 final record. Essentially, the Giants will almost certainly hold the tiebreaker over the Bears.

If the Giants lose just two games, however, none of that will matter. Between a rivalry game against the Jets, the dominating Carolina Panthers, and the NFC North-leading Vikings, it’s not hard to imagine the Giants losing two games. The biggest longshot is probably the Bears finishing the season 9-7, as they’ve dealt with injuries to key players such as Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett, Antrel Rolle, and Pernell McPhee. If the Bears can make it happen, the rest of their playoff scenario isn’t so difficult to envision, even if it’s still unlikely.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanDavisMLB

Statistics courtesy of NFL.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.