Here is where the Bears stand as they enter what Lovie Smith labels “the final quarter” of the 2012 regular season. They are 8-4, tied for the lead atop the NFC North (which they’d currently lose on a tiebreaker) and two games ahead of a small crop of middling contenders for a wild card position. None of the final four games of this year are unimportant by any means but the next two – at Minnesota and home to Green Bay – will define how the performance of this schedule will be looked at in January and beyond.
If the Bears beat the Vikings Sunday in Minneapolis it would essentially end any hope for the purple to make the postseason and all-but-assuredly put the Bears in as no less than a wild card. They would hold at least a two game lead on Dallas, Minnesota and St. Louis while also holding head-to-head tiebreakers over each one. (The only club that might pose a threat is Tampa but they have a schedule that does not lend itself to making up two games.)
If the Bears lose to the Vikings, all bets are off and the remainder of the regular season becomes a dogfight, complete with a LOT of scoreboard watching.
If the Bears lose to Minnesota, their home game with Green Bay is a battle for survival – not for the division title.
But if the Bears beat the Vikings (and the Packers hold serve against the Lions) it sets up a great December showdown between two heavily-flawed but talented teams on the Lakefront. If the Bears won they would have a one game lead with two remaining. If the Bears lost, the final two weeks of the season would become about deciphering what road stadium they’ll be traveling to on Wild Card Weekend.
And think about it this way. All of the wins and all of the losses…will any of them mean anything to you if the Bears wake up on Monday morning, December 17th as leaders of the NFC North? If the Bears beat the Packers on the Lakefront and take control of the division will an overtime loss to Russell Wilson or humiliation at the hands of Colin Kaepernick be any more than a footnote to the 2012 regular season?
These next two games are everything. They are the season.