Wild-card scramble: Who has the edge?


Wild-card scramble: Who has the edge?

Back when the Bears were the team scoring 50 points in a game in Tennessee, long before the Seattle Seahawks made that point total weekly occurrence the question was whether the Bears would have a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now it is who else has to lose games to let the Bears squeak into the postseason. Because the first casualty of Sundays 21-13 Green Bay win was the Bears control over their own destiny. If they kept winning, it didnt matter what others did, because the Bears had a lead.

Now they dont. But they arguably have a better course through the minefield of two final games than the teams they find themselves chasing, some of which play each other. All of which presupposes the Bears winning on the road against Arizona and Detroit, two teams with a combined 19 losses.

Seattle is the biggest hurdle because of having beaten the Bears. As for the overall:

Wild-card team
Remaining opponents
RecordsSeattle Seahawks
San Francisco 49ers
10-3-1St. Louis Rams
6-7-1Comment: Few teams are playing better than Seattle right now, winners of three straight and five of their last six. Head-to-head tiebreak edge on Bears.

Wild-card team
Remaining opponents
RecordsMinnesota Vikings
@ Houston Texans
12-2Green Bay Packers

Comment: The toughest finishing stretch, although both opponents may be resting their firepower with positions clinched.

Wild-card team
Remaining opponents
RecordsWash. Redskins
@ Philadelphia Eagles
4-10Dallas Cowboys

Comment: Dallas is a blood feud but Washington has won five straight and put up 30 in four of the five.

Wild-card team
Remaining opponents
RecordsDallas Cowboys
New Orleans Saints
6-8@ Washington Redskins

Comment: No one really likes playing the Saints even after losing three straight before dismembering Tampa Bay. Washington in D.C. will be difficult.

Wild-card team
Remaining opponents
RecordsNew York Giants
@ Baltimore Ravens
9-5Philadelphia Eagles

Comment: The Ravens are slumping with three straight losses and getting scored upon. The Eagles should just forfeit.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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