So ... What Are the Bears Playing For? How Likely Is a First-Round Bye?

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So … What Are the Bears Playing For? How Likely Is a First-Round Bye?

Chicago Bears

Even after clinching a playoff spot by way of winning the NFC North, it’s full speed ahead for the Chicago Bears.

While meeting with the media at Halas Hall on Monday, Head Coach Matt Nagy expressed a desire for his team to clinch a first-round bye. That means healthy starters won’t be resting this week when the team travels to play the San Francisco 49ers and the team will continue to play until it can get its best possible playoff position – nothing is set in stone as far as the NFC postseason picture goes, so this is the right mentality.

Sure, the Bears are guaranteed to host a postseason game at Soldier Field and that’s wonderful. We’d probably be doing cartwheels had you told us that back in August. But knowing where we are in December and what’s left in front of the Bears, it’s OK – even encouraged! – to be a little greedy. So let’s explore some potential paths, shall we?

The Eagles defeating the Rams moved the Bears one step closer to capturing what seemed to be an elusive first-round bye. While the Rams still have a one-game lead over the Bears in the standings, things are looking dicey in Hollywood after back-to-back primetime losses and the door has opened for the Bears to slide into a bye. If the Bears could make up another game in the standings and finish 12-4, Chicago would get the No. 2 seed because they own the head-to-head tie-breaker because of the team’s Week 14 win on Sunday Night Football.

To be clear, getting to this point won’t be easy. The Rams have games against the Cardinals and 49ers who are fighting to stay out of the NFC West cellar. And even though the Bears share a common opponent in San Francisco, their season ends on the road against the Vikings, who will presumably be fighting for their playoff lives.

And while I’d like to reiterate the challenges ahead, it’s worth pointing out that the Bears could climb even higher up the standings and land the No. 1 overall seed and potential home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The road to the top seed in the NFC remains open, though it’s going to take a minor miracle to navigate it.

The Bears could end up with the No. 1 seed if they win their next two games, the Rams lose one of their next two, and the Saints (currently the NFC’s top seed) lose two games in three weeks to the Panthers (starting with tonight’s showdown on Monday Night Football). Should the Bears, Rams, and Saints finish with the same record, Chicago could earn a first-round bye and the top seed – so long as they finish with a better conference record than the Saints. And for that to happen, New Orleans would have to lose its next two games against Carolina. Everybody got that?

As it stands, FiveThirtyEight’s calculations have the Bears with an 18 percent chance at a first-round bye. It’s a long shot (about 1 in 5), but it’s not totally out of the realm of possibilities. However, the most realistic scenario is the Bears landing the No. 3 seed, which can happen as early as Sunday with a win against the 49ers or a Cowboys loss at home against the Buccaneers.

That we’re even here discussing postseason scenarios in which the Bears can get a bye feels good. Definitely better than sorting through draft positioning and college prospects at positions of need. Things are looking good for the Bears right now, but winning the NFC North feels like just the beginning.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.