With one game left in the regular season, all we know about the Bears’ first playoff appearance since 2010 is this: They will, at worst, be the NFC No. 3 seed, and at best will earn a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed.
But beyond that, there’s plenty left to be decided on Sunday. The Bears will kick off at 3:25 p.m. CST against the Minnesota Vikings, which will be concurrent not only with the Los Angeles Rams’ home date against the San Francisco 49ers but also the Philadelphia Eagles trip to face Washington. So here’s what could shake out, and how:
Bears earn first-round bye
How: The Bears beat the Vikings and the Rams lose to the 49ers
Likelihood: Football Outsiders gives this scenario, in which the Bears would be the No. 2 seed and the Rams would be the No. 3 seed, a 10.1 percent chance of happening.
Forecasting: The Bears would be assured a home game in the divisional round against the highest seeded team left after wild card weekend. Most likely, that would mean the Rams would make a return trip to Soldier Field. In this scenario, the Seattle Seahawks would be the No. 5 seed (as the Bears would beat the Vikings), so if the Rams were to lose in the first round Russell Wilson & Co. would come back to Chicago as well.
Bears play Vikings on Wild Card weekend
How: The Bears either beat the Vikings and have the Eagles lose to Washington, or the Vikings beat the Bears while the Seahawks beat the Cardinals
Likelihood: This is by far the most likely outcome, statistically, with Football Outsiders giving the Vikings a 69 percent chance of being the No. 6 seed.
Forecasting: Playing an opponent three times in one season — including twice in, likely, six days (as the Bears are probably ticketed for the Saturday night playoff game) — sounds tricky. But a strength of the Bears’ defense is in stopping the run, and even without jettisoned offensive coordinator John DeFilippo the Vikings’ offense could struggle if it has to become one-dimensional. The Bears are 7-1 at Soldier Field in 2018, including a primetime win over Kirk Cousins and the Vikings back in November.
Bears play Eagles on Wild Card weekend
How: The Bears beat Minnesota and the Eagles beat Washington
Likelihood: While the Eagles are surging, they still need help, hence Football Outsiders giving them a 26 percent chance of being the No. 6 seed.
Forecasting: The Eagles are a depleted, flawed roster…that would be rolling into Soldier Field having won three in a row behind a resurgent Nick Foles. Drawing the defending Super Bowl champions with a potentially on-fire quarterback is a troubling thought, and may actually pose more of a challenge for the Bears’ defense than the Vikings or Seahawks. Philadelphia, justifiably, has belief again — and hey, if they can win a Super Bowl with Foles last year, what’s to say they can’t make some noise with him again in 2018?
Bears play Seahawks on Wild Card weekend
How: The Bears lose to Minnesota and the Cardinals beat the Seahawks
Likelihood: Arizona is the worst team in the league, and reportedly will fire first-year coach Steve Wilks after the season. Seattle is highly unlikely to lose to them at home, which explains Football Outsiders’ 5.2 percent chance of this scenario playing out.
Forecasting: The Bears beat the Seahawks, 24-17, back in Week 2 (and that scoreline was closer than the actual game was), but that game wouldn’t be entirely relevant nearly four months later. Russell Wilson and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have seemed to find a develop a strong playcalling connection as the season has progressed, and like Foles, the Seahawks’ quarterback is a been-there, done-that guy in the postseason. Seattle, though, is only one week removed from losing to the 49ers, so they’re certainly a beatable outfit.