Despite losing many key starters for large chunks of, if not the entire season — such as Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman — and possessing one of the statistically worst defenses in the league, the Chicago Bears now control their playoff fate after the Detroit Lions lost to the Baltimore Ravens Monday night.
The improbable situation where the Lions lose at home to a Ravens team that has been anything but consistent has actually come to fruition, and the Bears have every opportunity now to win the NFC North.
Of course, it’s still not an easy road to the playoffs. Chicago plays two teams still fighting for a playoff spot in the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers in the last two weeks of the season. Detroit, comparatively, will play the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings — two very winnable games as their two opponents only have a combined 9-18-1 record. As for Green Bay, their chances of making the playoffs are slimmer, relying on both winning out against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Bears, as well as needing the Lions to at least lose one more game.
The only team that can guarantee a spot, however — standing alone at the top of the division — by ending the season with two wins are the Bears. While it seems like they’ve struggled tremendously this year, somehow they’ve still put themselves in a great position as the 2013 campaign winds down.
While only a week ago I wrote about the best-case scenario for the Bears perhaps being that they finish only 9-7 and miss the playoffs to get a better draft pick, making the playoffs still gives the team — as well as their new head coach Marc Trestman — some credibility moving forward. It would prove that despite their misfortunes this year, they are still moving in the right direction under GM Phil Emery. Obviously, making the playoffs means they’ll be picking in the early-to-mid 20s of the 2014 NFL Draft instead of in the teens, but it will also mean that they’re not too far away from being a true contender.
The reason I phrase it all that way, without sounding very hopeful for postseason success if they were to get there, is because with the holes on their defense, it’s highly unlikely they could compete with teams like the New Orleans Saints or Seattle Seahawks, among other good teams that will make the playoffs in the NFC. Chicago’s offense has really carried the team this year, but the D ranks in the bottom third of the league in just about every major statistical category. That makes playoff victories a pretty tough outcome to foresee.
Nevertheless, making the playoffs would seem to put this team in a positive light among the fan base for once, and perhaps mean that they’re only a few pieces away on the defensive side of the ball to becoming a real threat in the championship chase.