The Bears no longer control their own destiny in the NFC North race, but they're assured of earning a wildcard berth by winning their final three games against the Packers, Cardinals and Lions.
Having lost four of five after a 7-1 start, the Bears (8-5) trail the Packers (9-4) by one game in the NFC North. Green Bay can clinch the division title with a win Sunday at Soldier Field. But even with a loss to the Bears, the Packers would still claim the crown by winning their final two games.
|Julius Peppers and the Bears will host the Packers Sunday in a key NFC North showdown.|
The Packers, who finish the season by hosting the Titans and visiting Minnesota, put themselves in the driver's seat to win the NFC North by beating the Lions 27-20 Sunday night a few hours after the Bears had lost to the Vikings 21-14.
"We haven't played our best football the last couple weeks and when you don't play your best football, you get in a situation where you don't control what happens in the division," said coach Lovie Smith.
"We're in that position right now. We need a little bit of help as far as the division title and all that is concerned, but we do control our playoff hopes and that's what we have to lay everything that we do right now on to just play better football."
If the season ended today, the Bears would claim the second of two wildcards and open the NFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed against the No. 3 seeded Packers in Green Bay. Chicago currently owns a one-game lead for the final playoff spot over the Cowboys, Redskins and Vikings, all of whom improved to 7-6 with wins on Sunday.
Although the race is intensifying, Smith insists that the Bears are concerned solely with their play and aren't wasting any time or energy worrying about how other teams fare at this point.
"The pressure we're feeling right now is just on our performances improving," Smith said. "It's on us. We talked about someone else controlling the division. But what happens to us, it doesn't really matter about the teams ahead of us or the teams behind us right now. It's just what we do."
After hosting the Packers, the Bears close the season with road games in Arizona and Detroit.
"It's a short season," said quarterback Jay Cutler. We've got still a handful of games left and we've got to win them all. We've just got to take them one at a time."
It shouldn't be difficult for the Bears to concentrate on the task at hand given that the division-leading Packers are headed to Soldier Field.
"If you need a game coming up to really motivate you to play your best football, it should be your rival with Green Bay coming in," Smith said.
The Bears have lost five straight and seven of their last eight against the Packers. But the Vikings had lost six in a row to the Bears before snapping that skid Sunday.
"Streaks can be broken," said defensive end Julius Peppers. "We don't have to do anything heroic or superhuman to beat Green Bay. We just have to go out and execute our game plan and play well from the start."
The Bears appear to be repeating their demise from last season when they lost five straight games after a 7-3 start. But Smith doesn't think that studying the past will benefit this year's team.
"Situations help you a little bit, but I just don't think that has much bearing on what is going on right now," Smith said. "Our six-game winning streak earlier can't help us right now really an awful lot. Us losing [four] of the last [five] can't help us an awful lot.
"It's just concentrating on looking at the situation that is in front of us right now. That's what we're going to do; evaluate everything that happened from the game [Sunday in Minnesota], where we need to go forward, and that's all you really need to concentrate on is that."