Crunch(ing Numbers) Time: Breaking Down Playoff Scenarios


Here’s some good news you probably hadn’t considered: until the Lions lost to Baltimore, there was a scenario in play in which the Bears could have gone 10-6 and missed the playoffs for the second time in two seasons. That’s no longer possible; if the Bears win their final two games, they make the playoffs. Which is good, as suffering that particular fate for the second year in a row would have to be some sort of Eighth Amendment violation.

So, what variables are in play? I tried to make this list as comprehensive as possible, so you (and I) could use it as a reference guide going into next weekend. Hopefully I got everything. The Green Bay tie threw a wrench into proceedings.

Warning: headaches may ensue.

  • As I mentioned, the simplest point: if the Bears win both of their remaining games, they’re in the playoffs. If you’d prefer to think of it like that and ignore the convoluted mess below, I can’t say that I’d blame you. (Personally, I always like diving into these scenarios. I might just be weird.)
  • If the Lions and Packers both lose on Sunday, the Bears would clinch with a win in Philadelphia on Sunday night. This is the only scenario in which the Bears can clinch this weekend.
  • If all three teams win on Sunday, the Lions would be eliminated; their ceiling would be 9-7, while one of Chicago or Green Bay would finish with, at most, 6 losses. The Bears-Packers game would be a de facto play-in game.
  • If all three teams were to lose, the Bears would clinch with a win or tie in Week 17 against Green Bay. In this scenario, Detroit would be 8-8 at best, while one of either Chicago or Green Bay would be leaving Soldier Field with only 7 losses. This would also create a de facto play-in game.
  • If Green Bay wins while Detroit and Chicago lose, Detroit would be eliminated and the Bears-Packers game would be a de facto play-in game.
  • If the Lions lose while Green Bay and Chicago win, the Lions would be eliminated, and the Bears/Packers game for Week 17 would be a de facto play-in game. (This scenario, along with the previous three, would likely result in the Bears-Packers game being flexed to Sunday Night Football. I’d think it would be less likely to happen if the Lions still have any kind of chance heading into Week 17, but I could be wrong.)
  • If Chicago and Detroit win next weekend, but Green Bay loses, the Packers would be eliminated, as they could not reach 9 wins while Chicago would finish, at worst, 9-7. That would set up a Week 17 in which the Bears would clinch with a win or a Lions loss or tie in Minnesota, while the Lions would clinch with a win and a Chicago loss.
  • If Detroit wins next Sunday while both Chicago and Green Bay lose, Green Bay would be eliminated, Detroit would clinch with a win in Minnesota, and the Bears would need to win or tie and hope for a Detroit loss.
  • If the Bears were to lose on Sunday, while Green Bay and Detroit both won, the Bears would need to defeat Green Bay on the final weekend and hope for a Lions loss or tie. It’s important to note that the Bears will be alive going into Week 17 no matter what happens next weekend.
  • I’ll also note that if the Bears beat the Eagles and subsequently make the playoffs (no matter how they do it) they’ll be the #3 seed in the NFC. (Neither the Eagles or Cowboys could have a better record in this scenario, and the Bears would own the tiebreaker against both teams.)
  • If the Bears lose to the Eagles and Philadelphia ends up NFC East champion, the best Chicago could hope for would be the #4 seed.
  • If the Bears were to lose to Philadelphia but make the playoffs, and Dallas were to win the NFC East, the Bears would be assured of the #3 seed barring an insane scenario in which the Bears win the division via a Week 17 tie against Green Bay. Since the Bears most likely must win once more to make the playoffs, they could finish no worse than tied with Dallas at 9-7; they would get the higher seed based on their head-to-head victory in Week 14.

So, totally simple, right? If it helps, any Detroit loss knocks them out. Also, I’d love to use “de facto” more often. Really went on a tear there for a few bullets. Who knew Latin was so fun? How did it ever die? Regardless, I’d be more than okay with the Bears winning out and making this moot, even though I spent a sad amount of time compiling it.

You just know ESPN is going to have some sort of interactive graphic that explains everything far better than I just did. If you see something like that, please don’t share it with me.

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.

27 responses to “Crunch(ing Numbers) Time: Breaking Down Playoff Scenarios”

  1. jh03

    Thanks for taking the time, and the headache, to write this all out for us. I bet that was fun ha.

  2. Edgar

    Great job of breaking it down Jay. So glad I am now able to get all the news on my two favorite teams at one place.

  3. Coop

    But what happens if the hurricane is named Ditka?!

  4. Greenroom

    Great job breaking that down. I just sent this link to a few friends, hahaha. On a side note, you are a good writer. I can see why Brett selected you. thanks and keep up the good work.

  5. Andrew

    Well there’s this too.

  6. Tom B

    Thanks Jay. My head just exploded…

  7. ssckelley

    To simplify it, Bears just need to win.

  8. ssckelley

    Off topic, but this blog got me looking at the standings. Did any of you envision we would be this late into the season and Houston would be in line for the #1 pick? They started 2-0!

  9. MLB’s Revenues Passed $8 Billion This Year and Other Bullets | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary

    […] for the playoffs, and I’m going to highlight it, damn it, even if it isn’t the Cubs. Jay digs (deeply) into the multifarious playoff scenarios for the Bears over at the BN Bears page. Makes me appreciate that baseball’s playoff picture is settled 99% […]

  10. Brian

    Jay, post the hand drawn chart. Was it a flow chart? Flow charts are awesome, especially for things like this.

  11. hansman


    (so this is what it feels like, sadly dissapointing)

    Basically, next week’s Bears-Packers game will probably be a play-in game? Might have to watch it.

    1. jh03

      Duh, idiot, Lovie isn’t the Bears’ coach anymore? Everyone knows they brought back Ditka on that Monday night vs Dallas. Duhhh. That’s why they won.

      1. hansman

        So Ditka’s codename is Trestman?

        Is that like when Garth Brooks wanted to do something different and became Douche MaGhee?

        1. jh03

          Yeah, it was his alter ego all season long – so Chicago didn’t know – and then he unveiled that he was actually Trestman all along.

          I don’t even know what to say to this point. I remember my parents listening to Garth Brooks when I was really little, but this joke is probably too “old” for me. You old fart.

          Or, I’m just obvlious to something that should be obvious. Which is possible too.

          1. hansman

            If I remember right you said you were 12 at some point in the mid-ish Oughts, so it shouldn’t be too far ahead of your time. The “Chris Gaines” debacle happened around 2000.


            1. jh03

              I would have been 7 when this happened and I had never heard of it until now. That story is… interesting.

              You’re still an old fart.

              1. JB88

                I’d argue that you are a young whippersnapper. On behalf of all the old farts out there, I offer you a responding: So there! :p

  12. Matt

    So what’s the deal where if Dallas wins against the Redskins, the Eagles have nothing to play for against the Bears? Why is that?

  13. Sunday Preview Bullets: A Look at Some Intriguing Matchups | Bleacher Nation - Bears

    […] noticed that I skipped the NFC North entirely; that was by design. We know about those games, and we’ve already discussed their potential impacts. For what it’s worth, I think the Lions win (as bad as […]