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:
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?
@ Detroit (Thanksgiving)
@ New York Giants
vs. Los Angeles Rams
vs. Green Bay
@ San Francisco
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)
The Packers’ path is considerably easier:
@ New York Jets
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.”