Chicago Bears: Playoff hopes are in Bears’ hands

Thanks to a 4th quarter Detroit Lions‘ meltdown Monday night and a 61-yard dagger from Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker, the Chicago Bears (8-6) are in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. The final two games on their schedule are vital, and they hopefully will be gaining a momentum boost Sunday with the expected return of Lance Briggs.

As it stands, the Bears have the fourth seed in the NFC. If the Bears take care of business against the Philadelphia Eagles (8-6) Sunday, they would overtake the number three seed and could clinch the division if both the Lions (7-7) and Green Bay Packers (7-6-1) lose.

We have seen the Lions implode many times this season, especially in the fourth quarter. They face the New York Giants, who at this point are looking to play spoiler since they have no shot at the playoffs. The Packers will go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are still barely clinging to playoff hopes at 6-8 and are a dangerous team with their backs against the wall.

No matter what happens against the Eagles Sunday night, a Packers win earlier in the day would create a winner-take-all situation with the NFC North coming down to the Bears-Packers in Week 17. This could mean two straight Sunday Night Football appearances for the Bears, as there is talk that this game could be flexed from the afternoon time slot if it indeed comes down to the division.

All of these scenarios aside, the only thing the Bears should do Sunday is focus on getting the win.

Possible return of Briggs; relaxed Cutler will help Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs

Briggs has been medically cleared Friday to play, but it is unclear as to whether he will Sunday (Jose M. Osorio.Chicago Tribune)

They could get a big boost of confidence and tenacity with the possible return of Lance Briggs, who has been out since Week 7 with a shoulder injury. While they have improved, linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene have not quite filled the hole Briggs left. If anything, they have opened up more holes, as the defense has allowed around 2,600 total yards without Briggs in the middle. They had only allowed 117 rushing yards per game with him, and 157 per game going into last week’s contest without.

It is no secret they will give up big gains against an offense that allows the second-most offensive yards in the NFL, but Briggs would help solidify an area in which the Bears have struggled all season.

Something else that is in the Bears’ favor is a more relaxed Jay Cutler, and he has displayed a more humble approach to the game of football after enduring one of the most stressful weeks of his football career. In addition to the alleged ‘quarterback controversy’ that echoed around Halas Hall all last week and throughout the contest against the Browns, there was the report that certain members of the team would not continue to stand behind Cutler.

The quarterback quelled both the controversy and gained the confidence of his teammates with his performance, and he has been much more relaxed and humble with the media as a result. This is huge coming into a game that could decide the division if the chips fall in the right place earlier in the day, and could allow Cutler to play mistake-free.