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NFL Playoff scenarios: Bears need help to claim an NFC wildcard spot

The Chicago Bears have squandered their chance at an NFC North title, but they can still make the NFC playoffs as a wildcard if a few other teams provide some help.


The Chicago Bears have somehow managed to turn a spectacular 7-1 start into an 8-6 season on the brink of total disaster, but they aren't completely out of the NFC playoff picture at this point. They absolutely need to win their final two games against the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions to have a real chance at the post-season, but in all five playoff scenarios they also need help from other teams around the league.

The Bears split their season series with the Minnesota Vikings, but the Vikings hold a better record against common opponents, which is the secondary wildcard tie-breaker among divisional teams. Therefore, the Bears would need the Vikings to lose at least one game down the stretch to beat them out for a wildcard spot.

The tight race in the NFC East holds some potential to help the Bears as well. The Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants are in a three-way tie for first place with 8-6 records. Chicago holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dallas Cowboys, so they go to the playoffs if the Cowboys are the only team they are tied with for a Wildcard spot, but the Redskins and Giants own better conference record and would prevail under NFL tie-breaking procedures for wildcard teams from different divisions, which is reproduced below (


If it is necessary to break ties to determine the two Wild-Card clubs from each conference, the following steps will be taken.

  1. If the tied clubs are from the same division, apply division tie breaker.
  2. If the tied clubs are from different divisions, apply the following steps.

Two Clubs

  1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
  4. Strength of victory.
  5. Strength of schedule.
  6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best net points in conference games.
  9. Best net points in all games.
  10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  11. Coin toss.

Larry Mayer of recently broke down five wildcard scenarios where the Bears would ultimately advance to the playoffs, and here is what he came up with:

Scenario 1: Two Bears wins, coupled with one Vikings loss and one Giants loss

Scenario 2: Two Bears wins, coupled with one Vikings loss and two Seahawks losses

Scenario 3: Two Bears wins, coupled with one Giants loss and two Seahawks losses

Scenario 4: Two Bears wins, coupled with two Vikings losses, one Redskins loss and one Cowboys loss

Scenario 5: Two Bears wins, coupled with two Seahawks losses, one Redskins loss and one Cowboys loss

As Mayer notes, if the Vikings and Giants lose in Week 16 (along with a Bears win), the Bears will actually control their own destiny going into Week 17. The final four scenarios all feel a bit out of reach, especially because one playoff contenders would need to lose twice just to give the Bears a shot, so that first permutation might the last, best shot for Chicago.

Here are the remaining schedules for Vikings, Giants, Seahawks, Redskins and Cowboys:

Vikings: at Texans, vs. Packers

Giants: at Ravens, vs. Eagles

Seahawks: at 49ers, vs. Rams

Redskins: at Eagles, vs. Cowboys

Cowboys: at Saints, at Redskins