Based on the mess that Phil Emery left the Chicago Bears roster in when he was ousted as general manager last year, and the litany of injuries that have plagued the roster this year, it would have been incredibly ambitious for anyone to mention the Bears and the word 'playoffs' in the same sentence for at least another season.
But new head coach John Fox has somehow managed to instill a game-plan week after week that has not only allowed the Bears to be competitive, but also has us discussing the potential of a post-season playoff berth.
So let's take a quick look at where Chicago stands, and how they can make the playoffs:
Step 1: Win out. The Bears are currently sitting at 5-6, and if they are going to vie for a Wild Card spot, they will need to win the remainder of their games and close out the season with a 10-6 record.
Bears remaining opponents: vs. 49ers (3-8), vs. Redskins (5-6), at Vikings (8-3), at Buccaneers (5-6), vs. Lions (4-7)
All of these games are winnable for Chicago, with division foe Minnesota likely being the toughest test remaining. The Vikings beat Chicago 23-20 a month ago, when the Bears were coming off an extra week of preparation thanks to the Bye week.
Step 2: Get some help. The Bears are currently sitting as the 10th seed in the NFC, so they will need some help from other teams to get in.
Current standings in the NFC:
Minnesota Vikings: 8-3 (#3 seed)
Green Bay Packers: 7-4 #5 seed)
Chicago Bears: 5-6 (#10 seed)
Carolina Panthers: 11-0 (#1 seed)
Atlanta Falcons: 6-5 (#7 seed)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5-6 (#8 seed)
Washington Redskins: 5-6 (#4 seed)
New York Giants: 5-6 (#9 seed)
Arizona Cardinals: 9-2 (#2 seed)
Seattle Seahawks: 6-5 (#6 seed)
So the Packers are sitting with the first Wild Card, with the Falcons playing bad football but hanging on to the second one by a thread. The Bucs are making a push, and the Seahawks have new life after beating the Steelers this past weekend.
If the Bears are going to sneak in the back door, they'll need to win out, and have the Falcons and Seahawks lose at least two more games apiece. There are other scenarios, but this one is the easiest and cleanest.
Seahawks remaining schedule: at Vikings (8-3), at Ravens (4-7), vs. Browns (2-9), vs. Rams (4-7), at Cardinals (9-2)
Falcons remaining schedule: at Buccaneers (5-6), at Panthers (11-0), at Jaguars (4-7), vs. Panthers (11-0), vs. Saints (4-7)
It's worth mentioning that the Seahawks hold the tie-breaker over Chicago thanks to their 26-0 thumping in Week 3.
While we're looking at schedules, a couple others of teams also in the hunt:
Redskins remaining schedule: vs. Cowboys (3-8), at Bears (5-6), vs. Bills (5-6), at Eagles (4-7), at Cowboys (3-8)
Giants remaining schedule: vs. Jets (6-5), at Dolphins (4-7), vs. Panthers (11-0), at Vikings (8-3), vs. Eagles (4-7)
Buccaneers remaining schedule: vs. Falcons (6-5), vs. Saints (4-7), at Rams (4-7), vs. Bears (5-6), at Panthers (11-0)
The Chicago Bears can certainly still make the playoffs, and I wouldn't necessarily call it a long-shot. The help they need could easily be there. But their toughest opponent will be themselves... Can they win out?