The Bears jumped from 14th to 10th in ESPN's weekly NFL power rankings this week. They're the highest ranked 4-3 team -- as they probably should be considering they've played the second toughest schedule in the NFL statistically and ahead of the No. 11 Giants (4-2) and No. 16 Bengals (4-2.)
John Clayton's comment on the Bears was interesting: "By beating the Bucs in London, the Bears ensured they will be in the playoff hunt until the end."
With victories over the other two 4-3 teams in the NFC that essentially give them a one-game lead in a playoff-berth scenario, the Bears should be in then playoff hunt until the end. After playing the Eagles on Monday Night Football in Philadelphia next week, they play four of their next six games at home (Lions, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks) and the two road games are against the Raiders (4-3) and Broncos (2-4).
The catch lies beyond that six-game stretch -- a prime-time game at Green Bay on Dec. 25. Most Bears fans know how ominous that appears. So the key for the Bears after the break is to avoid a must-win situation in Green Bay. Assuming 10-6 gets them in like it does in most years, they'd be well-advised to be 9-5 or better heading into Green Bay. Unless the Packers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC by then, that's going to be a tough road game to win.
Can the Bears win five of their next seven games? A look at the schedule shows they at least control their own destiny:
Nov. 7 at Philadelphia -- No telling how the Eagles will be playing from day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. Bears are 4-3 after the bye week (1-2 in their opponents' home stadium). LOSS (4-4).
Nov. 13 vs. Lions -- The Lions are coming back to earth and Matthew Stafford is injured again. Bears should be much healthier than when they lost to the Lions at Ford Field. WIN (5-4).
Nov. 20 vs. Chargers -- Philip Rivers isn't have a great season and the Chargers aren't as good outdoors on the road in November against teams that aren't 1-10 like the Browns were in 2009. WIN (6-4)
Nov. 27 at Raiders -- It'll feel like the Bears' second trip to a foreign country and Carson Palmer will have had four more weeks in the Raiders offense. Could end up being a pivotal game. LOSS (6-5)
Dec. 4 vs. Chiefs -- The Chiefs have won three straight after an 0-3 start, but they've played the Vikings (1-6), Colts (0-7) and Raiders (3-3) with a rusty Carson Palmer at quarterback. WIN (7-5)
Dec. 11 at Broncos -- The Broncos could be on a real high or a real low coming into this game -- they will have played four of their previous five games on the road, but with Tim Tebow, you never know. WIN (8-5)
Dec. 18 vs. Seahawks -- The Seahawks are 2-8 on the road since beating the Bears at Soldier Field last October -- the losses by an average of 18 points. If the Bears can't win this with a playoff berth at stake ... WIN (9-5)
If 10-6 is the mark, that could leave the Bears needing to win at Green Bay or at Minnesota to make the playoffs. But the scenario is pretty clear: The Bears need to take care of business in the next seven games and avoid a must-win situation on the road in the final two weeks of the regular season.