Sunday’s Week 17 winner-takes-all showdown for the NFC North title between the Green Bay Packers and Bears in a renewal of the NFL’s oldest and best rivalry is a big deal.
There are no two ways about it.
And I’ll tell you right now I believe the Bears are going to win this one.
So, now that that’s all taken care of, what am I going to do with myself between now and Sunday? Mostly I’ve been trying to figure out as much fun and exciting as all this is, how much does it really mean?
Does the fact that the Bears are in the playoffs with a win over the Packers make them a "playoff team?" Or are the Bears and Packers competing for the right to be the first home-team loser in the wild-card games?
Here’s the only easy answer in this conundrum. Of the nine teams still alive for or already in the 2013 playoffs – Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals, Bears, Packers, Panthers, Saints, Cowboys and Eagles – the Cowboys are the worst.
Dallas is 1-6 in games against the other eight clubs, including losses to the Bears and Packers in the past three weeks.
Next up – or down as the case may be – are the Packers and Bears.
The Packers are 1-3 against the remaining eight playoff contestants, while the Bears are 2-2. It is noteworthy however that the Bears two wins are over the Cowboys and Packers.
Green Bay ranks fourth in offense and 26th in total defense, and they’re the second-worst playoff hopeful left in total point differential at 19th.
The Bears are eighth in total offense – surprisingly they’ve slipped to 18th in rushing – and 29th in defense, and of the nine NFC playoff contenders, they are dead last at 21st in the league in total point differential.
There should be little dispute that the Seahawks, Panthers and 49ers are the three best teams left ,as all have top-five defenses and they are second, fifth and third, respectively, in total point differential.
Seattle is 4-2 vs. the other eight contenders, Carolina 3-2 and the 49ers 3-3. It is also worth noting the 49ers' losses are to Seattle, Carolina, Indianapolis and New Orleans, and the Seahawks have been stopped only by the Colts, 49ers and Cardinals.
The Saints have already come to Chicago and handled the Bears, and we know what happened in Philadelphia last Sunday. The Bears also have losses to St. Louis, Washington, Minnesota and two to Detroit.
That leaves the Cardinals, who won’t be a playoff team unless they beat the 49ers on Sunday and the Saints lose at home to the Bucs.
If I’m right and the Bears beat the Packers, their wild-card opponent will be either the 49ers, Panthers, Saints or Cardinals. Which of those clubs do you like their chances against?
I believe the Eagles game was a bit of an aberration, just a bad outing, and Philly does have the best offense of any of the nine contenders. But if the Eagles' defense handled the Bears like that, what would the 49ers', Panthers' or Cardinals' defenses do to them?
The Bears' defense isn’t stopping anyone.
If the favorites all win Sunday, it will be the 49ers coming to town to start the playoffs.
A 9-7 rookie campaign with a wild-card game would be a great start for Bears coach Marc Trestman, and based on all the moves he’s made so far, a nice sophomore campaign for general manager Phil Emery.
But if it allows them to believe they are anything more than slightly better than average, or that they should sign Jay Cutler to a long-term deal at the going QB rate of $100 million or so, and anything but a complete rebuilding of the defense will suffice, it could be the worst thing that ever happened to them.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.