By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) When the Bears lost to the Packers Sunday and were eliminated from contention for the NFC North title, it put them in the position of having to win both of their remaining games against the Cardinals and the Lions if they are going to qualify for the playoffs.
However, it’s not a matter of win and they’re in. The Bears are going to need help. Their best chance of getting the help they need most likely rests in the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, who host the New York Giants Sunday.
Here’s how it looks right now:
The Bears are one of five NFC teams with an 8-6 record. They are in the mix with the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Vikings. The Seahawks are 9-5 and have not yet clinched a postseason spot.
Seattle has an excellent chance of gaining a wild-card spot. While they have a tough game Sunday when they face the 49ers at home, they host the St. Louis Rams in a Week 17 game and they should be able to win at least one of those two games. If the Seahawks don’t collapse – and they have scored 50 points or better in each of the last two games – that will leave one more wild-card spot to be determined.
The Vikings deserve credit for having won their last two games against the Bears and Rams. However, they have to face the Houston Texans on the road this week before closing the season with a home game against the Packers. When you line up with Christian Ponder at quarterback, a win in either of those two games is not likely. So let’s scratch out the Vikings.
That brings us to the three teams in the NFC East.
The Redskins and Cowboys have the most direct route to the division title because they have better divisional records than the Giants. Washington plays the downtrodden Eagles this week and they should be able to win that game whether Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins is lining up under center.
The Cowboys have a home game with the Saints this week and while New Orleans has not been the powerhouse they were a year ago, they are still capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The Cowboys will be tested.
However, if they can get the win, that will set them up for a Week 17 showdown with the Redskins in Washington for the NFC East title. Assuming that game does not end in a tie, one of them will win the division title because a 2-0 finish by either team would result in a tiebreaker edge over the Giants.
In addition to their game at Baltimore Sunday, the Giants close the regular season by hosting the Eagles. If they win both of those games, they would earn the second of the two wild-card spots.
Assuming both teams win out, the Giants would have the edge on the Bears because they would have a better record within the conference (8-4 vs. 7-5).
The NFC playoffs would likely see the Falcons, Packers, 49ers and the Redskins or Cowboys as division champions.
The Seahawks and Giants are in the drivers’ seats for the wild-card spots.
However, the Giants’ grip is tenuous. The Ravens have been struggling in recent weeks (three straight losses) and parted company with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron prior to last week’s game against the Broncos. Their first week with Jim Caldwell serving in that role for head coach John Harbaugh did not go well.
However, the Ravens are capable of winning a home game against the Giants if they can play their best game. The Giants were awful in their 34-0 loss to the Falcons in Week 15, but they have been an up-and-down team in recent weeks and this might be an “up” week for them.
But the Ravens probably represent the best hope for the Bears. The Giants are not going to lose to Philadelphia in the final week of the season.
The struggling Bears have to take advantage of the weak Cardinals and the sad sack Lions.
They also need the Ravens to take down the Giants, so they can slip in the back door and take the No. 6 seed in the playoffs.
If not, it will be a very long winter for Lovie Smith and the crew, one that could result in significant long-term changes.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.