These Next Two Games Are Critical...........
Next 2 games could seal Bears' playoff fate
Beating Eagles and Lions critical to postseason prospects
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter November 2, 2011
Lovie Smith wasn't looking too far into the future nearly a month ago when the Bears left Ford Field with a 2-3 record.
He talked for two straight weeks about the opportunity for his team to enter its off week 4-3. The Bears beat up the Vikings and then survived the Buccaneers in London to achieve their coach's goal. Now, it's not too early to examine the conference race.
Trailing the Packers (7-0) by three games in the NFC North, it's going to be a wild-card chase for the Bears unless their oldest rival has an unexpected and dramatic collapse with nine games remaining.
Smith usually talks about playing well through November to be in position to earn a playoff spot in December. For the Bears to have more to play for than the sixth NFC playoff seed, it could come down to their next two games — Monday night in Philadelphia and Nov. 13 against the Lions at Soldier Field.
It's not premature to start considering the possibilities, especially when you consider two 10-6 teams — the Giants and Bucs — failed to make the playoffs last season. It was just the seventh and eighth times a team with 10 or more victories missed the postseason since the NFL expanded to a 12-team format in 1990.
The Bears are fortunate they already count victories over the Falcons and Bucs — teams that also are 4-3. But only five of the Bears' nine remaining games are vs. NFC opponents because they still must play all four teams in the AFC West, which has three 4-3 teams.
"I'm just worrying about winning the next game," linebacker Lance Briggs said. "Win out and let all the chips fall where they may."
The schedule looks like it softens some in the second half, but the Bears don't have a lot of room for error, similar to the position in which they found themselves last season. The biggest difference from 2010 is they sit third in the division, also trailing the 6-2 Lions who will have their week off before they visit the Bears.
Since the NFL expanded to eight divisions in 2002, there have been three playoff teams from the same division only three times. Most recently, in 2007, the Eagles, Giants and Redskins made the postseason from the NFC East and the Colts, Jaguars and Titans did likewise from the AFC South.
If the Bears can't surpass the Lions, , they will have to have better records than the second-place finishers in the NFC East and NFC South. The NFC West is struggling below the 6-1 49ers. That makes the meeting with the Eagles, who like the Bears have won two straight, so important.
If the Bears can pull off victories in the next two weeks, they would be even with the Lions, putting them in prime position for a run at a playoff berth for the second straight year for just the second time under Smith (2005-06). But a victory over the Eagles and a loss to the Lions would leave the Bears two games behind Detroit, and they would lose a two-way tie based on the season series.
"We realize we're in a hole and we have to keep playing well," center Roberto Garza said. "We worry about who we have this week and if we don't win, it doesn't matter what everyone else does. We have to focus on the Eagles and go from there."
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