The Bears and the NFC playoff obstacle course

The Bears and the NFC playoff obstacle course
October 25, 2013, 10:15 pm
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The Bears will get back to work Monday following their bye week, focusing on trying to fix what they can right now. This just in: The NFL won't let them wait to resume play until Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs are able to return.

Unlike most of us fans and media, pro athletes and coaches are trained to quickly let go of "what just happened" (no matter how much we ask) and steer their attention to what's right in front of them. Let's take that a couple of steps further, beyond what they're thinking.

Some of you might have already written off this season after what you saw last Sunday. Some of you are taking the other extreme — projecting Josh McCown running the offense as good as (or better than?) Cutler, thinking it can conquer through shootouts.

Let's do what the coaches and players don't: Look ahead. But not too far ahead, as we try to give you a better gauge in how realistic it is for this club to stay in contention. We'll do it looking at the teams they'll be in battle with, and what those clubs are facing the next four weeks, while the 4-3 Bears rest, visit Green Bay, then host Detroit and Baltimore. Draw your own conclusions.

[MORE: Bears: "Dr. Marshall" might have valid point on Cutler assessment]

NFC East leader Dallas visits Detroit this weekend. If the playoffs started today — it would be like last year for the Bears: The Lions would get the second Wild Card over the Bears based on holding the tie-breaker (the home team's Week 4 victory in Detoit). Sunday's winner moves to 5-3, the loser dropping to 4-4. The Cowboys then host Minnesota, travel to New Orleans, then get their bye week. Here's the tricky part for the Bears: While they go to Lambeau a week from Monday, the Lions will be enjoying their bye week before coming to the lakefront for the rematch six days later. After that, Detroit goes to Pittsburgh, then hosts Tampa Bay. Ugh. So how important will Nov. 10 be for the Bears?

If the East will only send the division champ, Philadelphia (now 3-4) hosts the Giants, visits Oakland, gets its own trip to Green Bay, then hosts Washington. The Redskins (2-4 after beating the Bears) travel to Denver this week, and other NFC contenders are looking for a favor from the Broncos, coming off their lone defeat. After their Mile High excursion in Mike Shanahan's return to Colorado, the Redskins host San Diego (4-3), then hit the road to Minnesota and Philadelphia.

The Wild Card wild card just might be Carolina, 4-3 after Thursday's win in Tampa Bay. The Panthers next host struggling Atlanta, before traveling to San Francisco and hosting New England. But before you start high-fiving the schedule-makers, their last six weeks are manageable beyond their home-and-home with New Orleans. Sorry. I said I wouldn't look that far ahead but couldn't help it.

[RELATED: Redskins' Meriweather, Bears' Marshall not on same page after hit]

Arizona (3-4) might gain a little momentum the next month. The Cardinals host the Falcons, get their bye, then host Houston before traveling to Jacksonville. And Sam Bradford-less St. Louis (3-4) hosts Seattle and Tennessee ahead of trip to Indianapolis before its bye prior to the Bears' visit five weeks down the road.

Before that Rams game, the Bears close this four-week stretch with 3-4 Baltimore. The defending Super Bowl champs try to right their ship after this week's bye with a pair of division dates — at Cleveland, then home versus Cincinnati.

Oops. Forgot about Green Bay (4-2). Well, let's worry about them once we see where they are after visiting the Vikings on Sunday night, then hosting the Bears.

So there you have it. Most of us are of the belief one NFC Wild Card will come from either Seattle or San Francisco in the West. The Bears will be going up against teams in similar battles for the other, most of whom face some difficult roads of their own. As noted earier, the Lions rematch looms large for these Bears, no matter what happens after they get back to work a week from Monday. It could keep them in the mix while returning the head-to-head blow versus the division foe, and provide a springboard. Here's hoping you had fun predicting and projecting, while keeping in mind nothing really ever goes according to plan amid the parity in today's NFL.