What Jay Cutler's Concussion Means for the NFC Playoff Picture

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst INovember 14, 2012

Nov 11, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) scrambles during the second quarter against the Houston Texans at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

The concussion suffered by Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler Sunday night shouldn't knock the Bears off their likely postseason track, but it certainly hurts the team's chances of both securing a top seed and holding off the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. 

Cutler was concussed in the second quarter of the Bears' loss to the Houston Texans in Week 10, but he finished out the half before Jason Campbell took over to start the third quarter. Considering Sunday could be Cutler's sixth career concussion, it appears unlikely that he'd make it back for a Week 11 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.

ESPN's John Clayton reiterated that thinking on Tuesday, according to Rotoworld.com. Speaking on ESPN, Clayton classified Cutler as "doubtful."

"It looks like he's probably going to miss this week," Clayton said. 

However, Bears head coach Lovie Smith wasn't ready to commit to Cutler missing this week's game. 

Via Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune:

#Bears coach Lovie Smith says Jay Cutler is "getting better. We are still evaluating him. He is meeting with people."

— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) November 14, 2012


The Bears will likely give Cutler until Saturday's final practice to make a decision either way, but it still remains a safe bet that he'll miss Monday night's trip to San Francisco.

Chicago is already a five-point underdog, and the Bears haven't beaten a team with a winning record (as of Week 11) since overwhelming the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1. 

Also, the Bears went just 1-5 after Cutler was lost for the season in 2011. The conditions are far from the same now—Campbell was signed as a backup, Matt Forte is healthy—as they were then, but it's something to consider as Chicago prepares to play without him. 

If the 49ers beat a Cutler-less Bears team Monday night, both the NFC North and the top of the conference will tighten considerably.

The Packers are 6-3 and in Detroit this week to play a team they have beat 19 of the last 22 times. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 6-1 against the Lions in his career, with his lone loss coming after leaving a 2010 matchup with a concussion of his own (he missed the next week). 

Green Bay is also 5-1 after the bye week under Mike McCarthy, a record they'll attempt to improve on following a much-needed week off.

A Packers win and Bears loss would vault Green Bay into first place in the NFC North for the first time this season. Chicago has been atop the division each of the first 10 weeks of 2012. 

The race for a top seed in the NFC could also get interesting for Chicago if the Bears can't beat the 49ers without Cutler Monday night. 

Currently, the Bears are the NFC's second seed, behind only the 8-1 Atlanta Falcons

The 6-2-1 49ers would jump over Chicago with a win Monday night, as would Green Bay if they win in Detroit. The Bears could potentially fall from No. 2 in the conference to No. 5 in one week. 

Of course, Cutler's concussion is likely only a one-week impact. Things may change both atop the division and conference with the Bears starting quarterback sidelined, but there are six weeks following Monday night for Chicago to recover with a healthy Cutler under center. 

In the meantime, the Bears will likely have to weather the storm with Jason Campbell under center. That could mean a temporary fall in the standings, both on a division and conference level.