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Bears playoff scenarios 2018: How the NFC North champs can still earn a bye

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky celebrates with fans. | AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Bears won their first NFC North title in eight years by defeating the Packers on Sunday, but their work in the regular season isn’t done yet. Seeding for the postseason remains undetermined with a little more than two weeks left to play, and what happens during that time could have a big impact on the difficulty of the Bears’ road to Super Bowl LIII.

The big question for the Bears is whether they can move up into one of the top two seeds in order to earn a first-round bye. The top two teams in each conference get to skip to the Divisional Round of the playoffs each year, and you can bet that Matt Nagy’s team would prefer to avoid the Wild Card Round if possible.

However, the Bears’ road to a bye won’t be easy. The Saints lead the NFC with an 11-2 record entering “Monday Night Football,” and the Rams are right behind at 11-3. The 10-4 Bears sit comfortably in third place in the conference right now, but that would still get them stuck playing in the first weekend of the playoffs.

So what needs to happen for the Bears to overtake at least one of those teams to earn a first-round bye? Here’s a look at the teams’ remaining schedules and what needs to happen. Remember that the top priority for standings tiebreakers is head-to-head matchups, followed by conference record.

The remaining schedules

Bears: Week 16 at 49ers, Week 17 at Vikings
Rams: Week 16 at Cardinals, Week 17 vs. 49ers
Saints: Week 15 at Panthers, Week 16 vs. Steelers, Week 17 vs. Panthers

What if the Bears lose their final two games?

None of this matters. If the Bears finish 10-6, they won’t have a chance of getting into one of the top two seeds.

What if the Bears split their final two games?

If the Bears split the last two games of 2018 to go 11-5, they’ll need either the Rams or Saints to lose out. If both the Bears and Rams finish 11-5, Chicago would win the tiebreaker based on its Week 14 win over LA. If both the Bears and Saints finish 11-5, Chicago would win it based on conference record given they’re both 8-2 against the NFC right now.

What if the Bears win their final two games?

This is where the Bears can make things really interesting. If they can win out to finish at 12-4 overall and 10-2 against the conference, the pressure will be on the Rams and Saints to not blow their spots. If either team finishes the season with four losses, the Bears would leapfrog them into the bye.

It’s still not likely

Let’s sum that up based on the Bears’ potential records:

  • At 10-6, the Bears can’t get a bye.
  • At 11-5, the Bears need the Saints or Rams to lose out to get a bye
  • At 12-4, the Bears need the Saints to lose two of their final three or Rams to split their final two

However, it’s worth noting that, while more likely than either team losing out, it’s improbable one of them ends with four losses. The Rams, while struggling recently, have a light remaining schedule with games against San Francisco (4-10) and Arizona (3-11). There’s a good chance they win out to finish at 13-3. The Saints have won 11 of their last 12 games, so good luck betting on them to lose multiple times in three weeks.

The Bears can significantly increase their odds of getting a bye with two more wins – the 49ers just beat the Seahawks, so maybe they have another upset in them – but they still need a lot to go right outside of their control to get a bye.