Headed into the final week of the regular season, the Chicago Bears are very much in the playoff race.
Four NFC teams have locked up a playoff spot, while the No. 4 seed is still up for grabs and will go to either Washington or Dallas as the NFC East champion. The final seedings are still subject to change, but the playoff picture is relatively clear, overall.
Chicago started the season 7-1 but has since lost five of its last six games.
Now, the Bears need a Week 17 win over the Lions.
1. Packers must defeat the Vikings
This is an absolute "must" for the Bears. They can't control anything that happens in Minnesota on Sunday, but the Bears need the Vikings to lose.
Thus, this is the first key to Chicago earning a playoff berth.
If the Minnesota Vikings defeat the Green Bay Packers this weekend, they'll be the No. 6 seed in the NFC. But, if the Packers beat the Vikings, then Chicago would sneak into the postseason as the final wild card.
It doesn't happen very often around Chicago, but Bears fans will need to cheer for the Packers this weekend.
2. Forte needs to play and play well
With Michael Bush on injured reserve, the Bears' running game relies heavily on Matt Forte.
But after Forte re-aggravated his right ankle injury in last week's win over the Arizona Cardinals, his status for Week 17 was called into question. Forte expects to play in this week's crucial game despite his injury.
If the Bears are without Forte, their offense could really struggle to get going. Quarterback Jay Cutler is prone to making mistakes, but having a reliable runner in Forte takes some of the burden off of him.
3. Marshall must out-duel Megatron
But over the course of the 2012 season, Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall has had a career year in his own right. Johnson has 117 receptions and just five touchdowns, while Marshall has 113 receptions and 11 touchdowns through 15 games.
The last time these two teams met, Johnson had just three catches for 34 yards. Marshall caught six passes for 81 yards and one touchdown that day, and the Bears won the game, 13-7.
4. Bears defense must eliminate big plays
Detroit isn't exactly a great running team. The Lions rank 23rd in the NFL, averaging 102.7 yards per game on the ground.
Chicago's defense is built to force offenses to grind out long drives.
If the Bears can prevent the Lions from the "big play," they'll be sitting pretty for a win on Sunday. But, if Matthew Stafford finds Johnson deep a couple of times, this game could turn into a nail-biter.
5. Cutler must protect the football
Turnovers are the ultimate equalizer in the NFL. Good football teams keep bad football teams in games by turning the ball over.
At this point of the season, the Bears may not be a good or a bad football team. But still, turning the ball over significantly increases the Lions' chances of pulling off a Week 17 upset.
Cutler sat out one game this season with a concussion. But in his five losses this season, Cutler has thrown just five touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. In the eight games he's won as Chicago's starter, Cutler's numbers are much better—13 touchdowns and five interceptions.
If Cutler protects the football and finds the end zone regularly on Sunday, the Bears could be headed for the postseason.
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