During the first half of the season it was all clear skies for the 7-1 Chicago Bears. The defense was unstoppable. Cutler and Marshall were clicking. The Bears were one of the favorites in the NFC.
But Sunday the rain came, bringing with it a flood of doubt as to whether Chicago has the offensive firepower to make it to the Super Bowl.
Often-criticized Jay Cutler showed Bears fans what life would be like without him. Chicago struggled to put anything together offensively after Jason Campbell took over for a concussed Cutler. The Bears fell to the Houston Texans 13-6.
It’s possible that Cutler could miss Monday night’s matchup against San Francisco, and many are arguing that he should. It’s clear that the Bears have some immediate question marks—namely Cutler’s health, finding a second receiver and the play of the offensive line—but did Sunday’s performance change the Bears’ playoff outlook?
Baring an unlikely second-half collapse, the Chicago Bears are going to make the playoffs. There might be some panic among Bears fans, but the reality is that Chicago is still 7-2 and a game ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North.
No other team, besides Atlanta, has seven or more wins in the NFC. If the Bears managed to drop a couple games and be overtaken by Green Bay, they would still be in prime position for a Wild Card spot.
Unfortunately for Chicago, the remaining schedule doesn’t offer any easy games. Of the top 10 teams in the NFC, the Bears have statistically the second-hardest schedule behind the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears have just two games versus teams below .500 (at Arizona and at Detroit).
Say Chicago goes 4-3 in its remaining seven games, losing to San Francisco, Green Bay and Minnesota on the road. And let’s say Green Bay finishes the season strong, winning five of its final seven games. Both teams would be 11-5 and Green Bay would edge out Chicago in the NFC North with the tiebreaker.
For the Bears to lose a Wild Card spot, a lot would need to happen. Seattle would need to win five of its final six, Minnesota would need to win five of its final six, Tampa Bay would need to win six of its final seven and Dallas and New Orleans would need to win out. If two of those scenarios were to play out, and the Bears won just four of their final seven, Chicago would be on the outside looking in. At that point it would likely come down to tiebreakers based on head-to-head matchups or best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
Basically, the Bears can determine their own fate by simply winning games.
But Sunday proved that things aren’t quite that simple. The health of Cutler is the Bears’ primary, and most obvious, concern. During the second half of Sunday’s game, the Chicago offense was dreadfully slow. Houston stacked the box, forcing Campbell to throw the football. The supporting cast of wide receivers offered little help and his best option was throwing jump balls to Brandon Marshall.
It’s unknown whether Cutler will play Monday night, but head coach Lovie Smith said he isn’t worried about Cutler’s long-term health.
That’s the good news for Bears fans. The bad news is that no one except for Marshall can catch the football and the offensive line continues to be an issue.
From here on out each win means another step closer to home-field advantage in the playoffs, and another step towards playing on February 3 in New Orleans.