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Bears are playoff-ready; too bad they can’t beat Vikings again, again and again

The Bears can beat anybody who happens to be in their way in the playoffs. That doesn’t mean they will, just that they have a defense that can reduce an opponent, any opponent, to bits and pieces, if not tears.

The anybody in their way next is Philadelphia, which figures to put up more of a fight at Soldier Field next week than the Vikings and Kirk Cousins did Sunday in Minneapolis.

Again, name the time and the place, and the Bears will be there to see to business. But one small, plaintive regret: It’s too bad they can’t play Minnesota in the postseason. Really, really too bad.

The Vikings spent three hours Sunday looking like a deflated front-yard Santa Claus. A rematch next week would have been the next best thing to a first-round bye for the Bears, who knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs with a 24-10 victory.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is sacked by Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman in the first quarter Sunday. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The only way the Bears could have gotten a bye was for the Rams to lose to the 49ers on Sunday. Alas, the Rams won in a blowout, making the game in Minneapolis almost meaningless for the Bears. By halftime at U.S. Bank Stadium, there were only two questions for the NFC North champions: Who’s next? And when?

The Eagles at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.

The good news is that the Bears are tough enough, talented enough and confident enough that it probably doesn’t matter whom they play. The important part is that they’ll be comfortable enough, familiar enough and home enough when they face Philadelphia. They went 7-1 at Soldier Field this season.

The place will be a noise-pollution nuisance, seeing as how the Bears haven’t taken part in a playoff game since the 2010 season. That’s a lot of years and a lot of emotional scarring.

“If we keep doing what we are doing, hopefully we can do something special and keep rolling,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said.

The victory Sunday in the last game of the regular season gave the Bears a 12-4 record, and if there’s one thing that can’t be overemphasized, it’s a simple, ugly fact: They finished with at least 10 losses in each of the previous four seasons. It means they have gone from terrible to very good, from cursed to first, in what feels like a blink.

Now you open your eyes, and they’re in the playoffs. OK, if you say so.

Given the strong likelihood that the Rams were going to retain the No. 2 seed in the NFC, there was a strong likelihood that Sunday was going to be a strange day for the Bears. And it was.

By the start of the third quarter, they had very little to play for, but their starters were still playing.

Coach Matt Nagy waited until midway through the fourth quarter to take top defenders Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack out of the game. Considering the risk of injury and the fact that a loss wouldn’t have mattered to the Bears’ playoff situation, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Neither did playing Trubisky the entire game, unless you’re comfortable with the image of backup Chase Daniel leading the Bears out of the tunnel for a playoff game. But to make a federal case out of it seems silly now. None of the major stars got hurt.

And it is possible to see the other side of the argument when it comes to Trubisky. He’s far from being a finished product, so any snap he gets, even if it’s in a game that doesn’t matter to the Bears, might help him down the line.

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Unless, of course, a Minnesota defender had relieved him of his head Sunday.

OK, I’ll stop now.

As noted earlier, the Vikings looked deflated, but perhaps that’s too passive of a description. The Bears were the ones who relieved them of air. The defense made Cousins look bad, which has been his big-game default position. That he fell back on it had a lot to do with Hicks and the rest of a ferocious defense.

The Bears have had a lot of good fortune this season, but they didn’t get lucky when it came to the Rams game. But maybe luck was busy helping them in the Philadelphia-Washington game. Already without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles watched backup Nick Foles leave Sunday’s game with an injury to his ribs. His status for the first-round game in Chicago is unknown.

Will it matter who lines up at quarterback against this defense on Sunday? I don’t think so.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Right now is for appreciating what the Bears have achieved and achieved so quickly. From zero to 60 mph in a split second. From way over there to here, somehow. Amazing.