Bears

What’s at stake for the Bears in Sunday Night’s pivotal NFC North battle

What’s at stake for the Bears in Sunday Night’s pivotal NFC North battle

The Bears aren’t viewing Sunday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings as an opportunity to make a statement. But this also isn’t just another game — it’s the Bears’ best opportunity to take control of a division in which they’ve been mired at the bottom for the last five years. 

“You could say whatever you want in these situations,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “Ultimately, it’s all about getting a win — playing as a team and getting a win. You can’t really get too caught up in the hype. You gotta let that stuff roll off your shoulders and go out and ball, and that’s the mindset of this team, we’re going to go out and ball.”

The Bears enter Sunday with an 86.7 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to Football Outsiders. Their chance of winning the division is 68.9 percent, and the most likely playoff seed they’re in line for is No. 3 (35 percent). The Vikings, meanwhile, have a 43.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, and only a 17.4 percent chance of winning the division.

If the Bears win, here’s how the top three in the NFC North would look:

Bears: 7-3
Vikings: 5-4-1
Packers: 4-5-1

The Bears would be 1 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota and 2 1/2 games ahead of Green Bay. But how could that play out with these teams’ remaining schedules?

Bears: 

@ Detroit (Thanksgiving)
@ New York Giants
vs. Los Angeles Rams
vs. Green Bay
@ San Francisco 
@ Minnesota

Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and the Lions, Giants and 49ers won’t lose the rest of their games this year (especially at home). But at worst, the Bears can reasonably expect to win two of those three games against divisional bottom-feeders, and then one of three games against the Packers, Rams and Vikings. That almost seems like the worst-case scenario, and in it, the Bears get to 10-6. It’s easy to see how, with a win over Minnesota on Sunday night, 11-5 or even 12-4 could be in play. 

The Vikings, meanwhile, have a difficult road ahead:

vs. Green Bay
@ New England
@ Seattle (Monday night)
vs. Miami
@ Detroit
vs. Chicago

The Packers’ path is considerably easier:

@ Minnesota
vs. Arizona
vs. Atlanta
@ Chicago
@ New York Jets
vs. Detroit

But Green Bay probably can only afford one more loss. There’s a very real scenario in which the Bears knock the Packers out of playoff contention with a win at Soldier Field Dec. 16. 

As for the Vikings — a loss to the Bears Sunday night drops them to 5-4-1, though they could hang in the division race by taking two of three from that Green Bay-New England-Seattle stretch, then sweeping their final three games. 

The flip side to all this is what happens if the Bears lose: The Vikings would slide past the Bears into first place with a 6-3-1 record. It wouldn’t knock the Bears out of the NFC North race, not with the way each team’s schedule lines up. 

But psychologically, the effects of losing to the Vikings for the Bears could be longer-lasting than merely losing first place by half a game. Just as psychologically, the effects of beating the Vikings could have a longer-lasting impact than padding their lead in the division to 1 1/2 games. 

“We know it's a big game coming up,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “But all we've got to do is take care of our job. Do our job, block all the noise out and take care of business.”

Preseason Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 1 Whitney Young

Preseason Preps Basketball Power Rankings: No. 1 Whitney Young

Whitney Young

2017-18 record: 28-8, 7-2 Public League Red-North/West

Postseason results: Lost to Belleville West in Class 4A state title game.

Players to watch: The junior backcourt of Fenwick transfer D.J. Steward and Tyler Beard is potentially the best in the state as both players are consensus top-75 national prospects. Senior Myles Baker is poised for a big season after some strong play last season. Other seniors like Justin Warren and Keenan Jones are great role players who have helped win plenty of games.

Why they're in the power rankings: After falling just short of back-to-back Class 4A championships last season, Whitney Young reloads to replace departed seniors like Javon Freeman and Xavier Castaneda. It's rare a high school team loses two Division I prospects and replenishes with a backcourt that could be better, but that's the case here with Whitney Young. The Dolphins have the upside to be the state's best team this season.

Did you know? Whitney Young has been a state final qualifier seven times -- including five times under current head coach Tyrone Slaughter.