The Bears were embarrassed in front of a national TV audience on Sunday night, losing to the Minnesota Vikings 34-14. Chicago now finds themselves one game back in the NFC North with four games to play.
On the surface, this deficit does not seem insurmountable, but upon taking a closer look, their unlikely path to the playoffs gets a bit rocky. Even with the pending suspension of Pat and Kevin Williams (Vikings DTs), the Bears still have a hill to climb to get to the postseason. Let's start by looking at the remaining schedule for the Vikings (7-5).
Best case scenario: The Vikings dispose of Detroit, pull improbable upsets of Arizona and Atlanta, and catch a Giants team resting starters in week 17 to finish at 11-5.
Worst case scenario: The Vikings dispose of Detroit, and lose their final games to superior opponents as the Giants need a win to clinch home field advantage, finishing at 8-8.
Probable scenario: The Vikings beat Detroit and either Arizona or Atlanta, then lose to the Giants, finishing at 9-7.
If we assume the Vikings finish at 9-7, in order to win the division outright, the Bears (6-6) need to win their final four games of the season, which are home to Jacksonville, New Orleans, Green Bay, and away to Houston. Obviously, this is the best case scenario, but is very unlikely to happen.
In all likelihood, the Bears will have to finish 3-1 and hope to win the tiebreaker against the Vikings, which has become nearly impossible after the loss on Sunday.
After head-to-head, the next tiebreaker is division record. Both teams currently stand at 3-2, and the Vikings final divisional game is against the Lions, which for all intents and purposes we've assumed they will win. This means the Bears have to beat the Packers in order to have a chance.
Following division record, the next tiebreak is record in common games. Under the current scheduling format, each divisional rival has 12 games in common. In this case, the common games are GB (twice), Det (twice), AFC South (four), NFC South (four).
Currently, the Vikings' record in these games stands at 6-4 with two games to play (Det, Atl). The Bears' record in these games is 3-5 with four games to play (Jax, NO, GB, Hou). Again, assuming the Vikings beat the Lions, they will have a minimum of seven wins in common games (with one to play), which mathematically is the most the Bears can achieve by winning the rest of their games (which would win the division outright in this scenario).
If the division is somehow still tied after all of that, the next tiebreak is conference record, where the Vikings stand at 5-3 while the Bears stand at 5-5.
The point is, in order to win it, the Bears need to just win and not worry about what the Vikings are doing, since their best hope is to win the division outright. It would be great for the Vikes to slip up, go 1-3 down the stretch and finish at 8-8, but the Bears just need to worry about themselves.
Before you fret Bears fans, remember one important thing: this article and accompanying analysis is based on the assumption that the Vikings beat the Lions on Sunday. If the Lions pull the upset and avoid the shame of 0-16, all bets are off. Looks like Detroit just got a few million more fans for this weekend.