The standard line in the NFL—and sports in general—is that every game counts, but some are certainly more crucial than others.
The two most important areas to focus on for teams in the NFL are within their division and within their conference.
Winning divisional games is the easiest way to get into the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers have dominated the NFC North, going 11-1 over the last two years and 19-5 since 2009.
You win your division and you're in the playoffs, but there are two other spots that teams have to keep their eyes on.
Had the Bears defeated Minnesota in Week 14, they would've made the playoffs. However, that loss wouldn't have mattered as much had they defeated Seattle a week earlier. That win would've given them a better record than Seattle and the tiebreaker due to their head-to-head matchup.
Instead, it ended up being a painful loss. That turned into two when they didn't show up the next week in Minnesota. Although it was drug out until the end of the season, the Bears' playoff fate was decided in those two weeks.
Here, I give a sneak peak at the games that will determine how the Bears will do next season.
Obviously, things change as the season progresses. The games that seem important now may not be when they come around. Heading into last season, nearly everyone placed extra emphasis on defeating the Detroit Lions, not the Vikings. The Bears were undefeated against Detroit and still didn't get into the playoffs.
Still, we know who the contenders should be. I looked through the Bears' schedule and noted those who should be contending for both the division and the wild-card spots.
The Bears should have a few dates circled especially big on their calendars, and here is a peak at what they may be. The Bears don't have to win all of these games, but if they're going to get into the playoffs they'd better win most of these games.