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2021 Playoff picture: Bears begin outside the hunt

Don’t get your hopes up too high, if at all. But someone has to take that No. 7 seed, even if no one deserves it.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year. Whatever football programming you consume nowadays will begin, if they haven’t already, showing “playoff picture” snippets, periodically, week by week. It’s a staple designed to conjure up interest in fledgling teams that have no shot at beating any actual heavyweight fighting for their seasons in do-or-die football. If you follow the Bears, you’re used to them being one of those “in the hunt” teams near the very bottom of such graphics, if they’re featured at all.

With eight games remaining in the 2021 NFL season, the Bears are the NFC’s No. 15 seed. Huzzah! We’re already on track with expectations! Hopefully, we don’t check off too many boxes like “empty and quiet Soldier Field in mid-December.”

Whether Jim Mora thinks the Bears have a real shot at meaningful January football or not, we will track Chicago’s standing in the playoff picture through the rest of the year. I would consider it a victory if they stay in the picture and aren’t eliminated until the last week or so. But these are football players and football coaches and football people fighting for their reputations the way football people do. I’d say they'd like to sneak into the playoffs and maintain a semblance of pride, but I could be wrong.

Let’s take the first step and figure how big of a chasm the Bears have to dig themselves out of over the next two months.

Note:

  • Bold: Current playoff teams
  • Relevant head-to-head tiebreakers tracked only for those within one theoretical game of each other

Division leaders:

  1. Green Bay Packers (8-2)
  2. Arizona Cardinals (8-2) (GB has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (7-2) (TB has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) (NO has head-to-head tiebreaker)

Wild Card:

  1. Los Angles Rams (7-3) (ARI has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  2. New Orleans Saints (5-4) (CAR has head-to-head tiebreaker; ATL has head-to-head tiebreaker; NYG has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  3. Carolina Panthers (5-5) (MIN has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  4. Minnesota Vikings (4-5)
  5. San Francisco 49ers (4-5) (SEA has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (4-5) (PHI has head-to-head tiebreaker; WFT has head-to-head tiebreaker, CAR has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  7. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6) (SF has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  8. Washington Football Team (3-6)
  9. New York Giants (3-6) (WFT has head-to-head tiebreaker; ATL has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  10. Seattle Seahawks (3-6) (NO has head-to-head tiebreaker, MIN has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  11. Chicago Bears (3-6) (SF has head-to-head tiebreaker)
  12. Detroit Lions (0-8) (Alright, c’mon, they’re eliminated. But they do exist!)

Current NFC playoff matchups:

  • Green Bay Packers (1): BYE
  • Carolina Panthers (7) at Arizona Cardinals (2)
  • New Orleans Saints (6) at Dallas Cowboys (3)
  • Los Angeles Rams (5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4)

As you can see, the Bears would quite literally have to crawl out of the doldrums of what is known as the National Football Conference to make the postseason. But, crucially, most of the NFC belongs in said doldrums. A mere half-game separates the No. 7 seed Panthers and the Vikings, who are right on their heels. For most everyone else below, it’s a mere two games apart: a figure that could very well shift dramatically by the end of this weekend.

Unless the Bears turn into a buzzsaw in all three phases and don’t lose the rest of the way, I don’t think a postseason berth is saving anyone’s employment status the way it did last year. However, an 8-9 or 9-8 record last-minute sneak into the bottom slot isn’t out of the question. That’s before eventually getting stampeded by the No. 2 seed and mercifully moving on to the next coaching era.

Darnell Mooney, as he would, of course, told 670 The Score that anything is possible.

“It’s up to us to determine what we can do. 11-6 sounds really, really good. We can do it. There’s nothing in front of us that we can’t handle. We just got to go out there and do it.”

I’ll believe 11-6 can happen for this Bears iteration, otherwise known as a perfect second half, with wins over the Ravens, Cardinals, Vikings (twice), Seahawks, and Packers (in Lambeau Field, no less), when I see it. No earlier.

But hey, maybe “Any Given Sunday” turns into “Any Given November” and “Any Given December.” You never know. I’d be happy with “Any Given Holiday Season” myself, which still feels like a nutjob’s fantasy.

The long climb to mid-January at Halas Hall begins.