HOUSTON--Well, here we are, all the way to Week 17 and there is still plenty on the line for the Bears. A victory combined with a little help and they are in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. A loss, or a series of events in which the Bears win and don't manage to make it into the postseason, and you'll be counting the ways this season went wrong all the way to wild-card weekend, at least.
Let's boil it down here real quick. Here is what the Bears need to reach the playoffs:
*** The Bears clinch the NFC North with a win and Minnesota loss or tie OR a Bears' tie and Minnesota loss.
*** The Bears clinch a wild-card spot with a Bears' win and Dallas loss or tie and Tampa Bay loss or tie OR a Bears' tie and Dallas loss and Tampa Bay loss.
Now, what is interesting here is that for the Bears to get in via the wild card, they need Philadelphia to beat Dallas in a game that was flexed to 3:15 p.m. by the league this week. A potential problem for the Bears in this scenario is that game could be meaningless to the Eagles before kickoff. Philadelphia could be eliminated from playoff contention before the game starts and have nothing to play for, well, other than the pain of their division rivals.
First of all, here is what the Eagles need to sneak into the wild card:
The Eagles clinch a wild-card spot with a Philadelphia win and Tampa Bay loss and Minnesota loss OR Philadelphia win and Tampa Bay loss and Bears loss.
So, follow me through this (and credit for this goes to an intrepid reader who e-mailed earlier in the week) ... if the Vikings defeat the New York Giants in a noon game and the Bears also do their part and defeat the Texans in a noon game AND the Oakland Raiders ruin Jon Gruden's year and defeat the Buccaneers in a noon game, the Bears are still alive for the playoffs. In that scenario, as unlikely as it may be, the Bears would be alive for the wild card and the Eagles would be eliminated. At that point, the Bears would still need a win from Philadelphia when the Eagles would have nothing on the line.
Should all of the games that can impact other games have been kept at noon? Money drives business and Philly-Dallas with Dallas reaching the postseason with simply a win is probably good for television business in the preferred late slot.
We'll check in with more after we get to Reliant Stadium.