Before we become carried away, let’s begin with this: The odds are not in the Bears’ favor. But it’s Week 15 and the Bears have a chance to make the playoffs – so let’s talk about it.
Jim Mora voice: “Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?”
Jim Carrey voice: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
Yes and yes.
A quick recap: Green Bay has already clinched the NFC North. Entering Week 15, the 7-6 Arizona Cardinals lead the 6-7 Bears and the 6-7 Minnesota Vikings in the wild card chase.
The Bears remaining schedule: at Minnesota, at Jacksonville, vs. Green Bay.
The Vikings remaining schedule: vs. Chicago, at New Orleans, at Detroit.
The Cardinals remaining schedule: vs. Philadelphia, vs. San Francisco, at Los Angeles Rams.
Special thanks to ESPN’s Playoff Machine and FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Predictions, which are invaluable tools for figuring these scenarios out. Keep in mind, this list does not include every scenario, just a few plausible ones – and some not so plausible ones.
Bears win out, 3-0
The easiest path to the postseason is to win out, which of course is far from easy because it means beating the Packers in Week 17. It’s hard to see the Bears beating Green Bay after the Packers thrashed them a few weeks ago.
But according to FiveThirtyEight’s simulator, if the Bears win out they will have an 89% chance to make the postseason. The caveat is that they would need Arizona to lose at least one game against the Eagles, 49ers or Rams. If those two things happen, the Bears are in.
There is a scenario in which Green Bay could lock up the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye prior to Week 17. With a head-to-head win over New Orleans, Green Bay owns the tiebreaker with the Saints. If Green Bay can enter Week 17 with a one-game lead, that would guarantee the Packers a bye. They would likely need to win their next two against Carolina and Tennessee, and the Saints would have to lose to either Kansas City in Week 15 or Minnesota in Week 16.
In such a scenario, the Packers could rest their starters in preparation for the postseason. That certainly would make a 3-0 finish easier for the Bears, though not guaranteed.
Bears go 2-1, losing to Green Bay
This feels like a more likely scenario.
FiveThirtyEight projects the 8-8 Bears with a 34% chance of reaching the playoffs. The problem here is that the 8-8 Bears would need the Cardinals to lose two of their final three, AND they would need the Vikings to lose to New Orleans or Detroit. It’s certainly possible, but it’s a lot of ifs. The Cardinals should be favored against both Philadelphia and San Francisco, but are probably the underdogs against the Rams.
Let’s say the revived Eagles and quarterback Jalen Hurts surprise the Cardinals and win this week. Let’s say both the Bears and Cardinals finish 8-8. The Bears would win a tiebreaker with Arizona. But if Minnesota also finishes 8-8, the Vikings win the three-way tiebreaker.
Bears go 1-2 or worse
I’ll keep it short and sweet. Anything short of 8-8 for the Bears makes this the longest of long shot.
If the Bears go 1-2 with losses to Minnesota and Green Bay, they will not make the postseason. Even if Minnesota loses it’s remaining two games and Arizona goes 0-3 – tying all three at 7-9 – the Cardinals would win the tiebreaker for the final wild card spot.
One 7-9 scenario in which the Bears make the postseason (bare with me here), is if they beat the Vikings and lose to Jacksonville and Green Bay, AND they would also need Arizona and Minnesota to lose all their remaining games. In such a scenario, Minnesota would finish 6-10 and the 7-9 Bears would win the tiebreaker against the 7-9 Cardinals.
Of course, at 7-9 other teams could come into play, such as San Francisco, Detroit or even someone like Dallas. Those scenarios might not be likely, but this is the NFL. Nothing is certain, but we’ll reevaluate those scenarios, if needed, after Week 15.