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News » Falling Bears' way

Falling Bears' way

Falling Bears' way
Though the road to the NFC playoffs still looks as cluttered as a Chicago side street, the Bears can feel much better about the view of where they want to go -- and their role in clearing a path to get there.

After a remarkable Sunday in the NFL, Minnesota remains in the driver's seat in the NFC North. But the Vikings aren't exactly buckled up, and something's definitely wrong with the transmission.

At this point in December, it appears much safer to trust the Bears' steering, given the Vikings' shaky history in late-season games that determine postseason berths.

Besides, lately this winter Lady Luck seems to be smiling on the Bears through chattering teeth.

Christmas came early for the Bears as the Ravens beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Saturday night, the Chargers beat the Buccaneers on Sunday in Tampa, the Falcons beat the Vikings in Minneapolis and the Redskins beat the Eagles in Philadelphia. All four winners were underdogs.

As a result, the Bears woke up Monday morning feeling better about their playoff chances without even playing a down -- and downright giddy if they noticed how charitable the Vikings appear this holiday season.

Of course, if Minnesota beats the Giants on Sunday at the Metrodome, the Vikings still will win the NFC North title they squandered Sunday by losing to Atlanta 24-17.

But if the Vikings couldn't beat the Falcons at home with a chance to clinch the division, why does anybody think they could take care of business against the defending Super Bowl champions?

Now the Vikings will hear all week around town about 2003, when they blew a playoff shot on the final Sunday by losing 18-17 to the 3-12 Arizona Cardinals, and how in 2005 they allowed the 5-9 Baltimore Ravens to ruin their postseason plans.

With the playoffs within their grasp Sunday, the Vikings fumbled seven times and lost three of them in Falcons territory. On the final drive, when beating the clock was as vital as beating the blitz, they burned their final timeout with 1 minutes 26 seconds left to avoid a delay-of-game penalty.

That might not fit the NFL dictionary definition of choke, but it's at least a synonym. Whether it's Mike Tice or Brad Childress, Vikings head coaches seem to help spread playoff fever in Chicago as well as any Bears assistant.

Atlanta clinching one of the wild-card playoff spots by winning left open the remote possibility that the Bears still could qualify for the second berth even if the Vikings beat the Giants, providing the Bears win out.

For that long-shot wild-card scenario to play out, the Bears still would have to win four straight to end the season -- and they haven't won three in a row since 2006.

Then Tampa Bay would have to lose at home to Oakland and Dallas would have to lose to Philadelphia. If Tampa Bay loses at home to Oakland, coach Jon Gruden might ask outgoing defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin if there's room in the U-Haul he's taking to Knoxville to work for son Lane, the University of Tennessee coach.

A Tampa Bay victory would give the 10-6 Bucs any head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bears thanks to their Sept. 21 victory in overtime at Soldier Field. But that all will be moot if the Cowboys beat the Eagles to squeeze into the playoffs to play the NFC's No. 3 seed on wild-card weekend Jan. 3-4.

That opponent still could be the Bears at 10-6. Only five teams since the playoffs expanded in 1990 have missed the postseason at 10-6 and, since NFL realignment into four-team divisions in 2002, 19 of 22 teams with 10-6 records made the playoffs.

As encouraged as the Bears had to be watching Sunday's unlikely events unfold from their downtown hotel, they also should have felt warned. The Packers aren't going to quit on their season any more than, for example, the reeling Redskins did when they had nothing to gain by holding the Eagles to three points.

As excited as the Bears were Sunday night, they could be just as deflated Monday night if they don't beat a 5-9 Packers team in disarray. Then they need to follow that up in the season finale six days later by beating a Texans team flighty enough to lose by 11 to the lowly Raiders.

But Sunday will end up being lucky only if the Bears prove they really are good.

- - -

The NFC domino effect

Cowboys lost to Ravens

Bucs lost to Chargers

Vikings lost to Falcons

Eagles lost to Redskins

Packers AT Bears

MONDAY 7:30 P.M.



Monday vs. Green Bay and Sunday at Houston



Minnesota to lose vs. N.Y. Giants on Sunday



Dallas to lose at Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to lose vs. Oakland


Will they stand up to the Pack?

How will the Bears do against Green Bay on Monday night? Vote at chicagotribune.com/bearspoll

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 22, 2008

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