Arkush: Bears have reasonable path to playoffs

Chicago's Alshon Jeffery snags a Jay Cutler pass for a touchdown in the first half against New Orleans in an NFL game Sunday, October 6, 2013 at Soldier Field in Chicago. (H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)

On a Sunday afternoon with the Bears taking the week off, what’s a fan to do?

If you’re like me, you found it to be a good chance to sit back, fire up the Redzone and catch up on what’s going on around the league.

The Kansas City Chiefs are perfect in the standings, but their offense struggles on a regular basis and it’s not at all clear they’ll be the best team in the league when the playoffs begin.

Seattle, Denver, New Orleans and San Francisco are all good football teams with deficiencies that will cost them games, particularly when they play each other.

Indianapolis, Green Bay, New England and Cincinnati are in the next tier, their flaws a little more obvious now but still capable of being legitimate contenders by the end of the season.

Short of serious injuries or strange turns of events, those nine teams will almost certainly be in the playoffs.

Hopefuls for the remaining AFC Wild Card spot would appear to be the Chargers, Jets, Dolphins and Ravens, none of whom really appear to be any good and certainly not any better than the Bears.

In the NFC someone will win the NFC Least, and that will leave one wild card spot for the Lions, Bears, Panthers and anyone else who might get hot now, with the Cardinals and Falcons the most likely suspects.

Even in their current, debilitated state, does anyone doubt the Bears can compete with Detroit, Carolina, Arizona and a Falcons team that is as beat up as they are?

Hang tough, get healthy and who knows where the Bears can be in December?

That is relative to the wild card chase. The NFC North looks to be a much tougher putt.

While the Packers are arguably as banged up as the Bears, they’re just a deeper, more talented team. The Lions aren’t necessarily better than the Bears, but they’re healthier, and for now they own a tiebreaker over the Bears with their win in Detroit.

We won’t have to wait long to learn about the division, as it should be decided in the next four weeks. The Bears will travel to Green Bay on Nov. 4 for a Monday night game and then host the Lions the following Sunday. Two-and-half weeks later, the Packers will travel to Detroit on Thanksgiving.

With the Packers already owning a victory over Detroit in Week 5, a sweep of those two games for them would just about sew up the title, even though the Packers will still have to come to Chicago the last day of the season.

A sweep for the Lions would give them a good shot at the title but still work to do to catch the Packers, while a sweep by the Bears would actually leave them in the NFC North driver's seat, particularly if Detroit then beat the Packers on Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, I know I won’t be able to pick the Bears over the Packers next week. But as I’ve already written, with Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas, Cleveland and Philadelphia after that before the Pack comes to Chicago to close the season, it’s not at all difficult to see the Bears lining up at 9-6 or even 10-5 for that final game.

The Lions will have a fairly easy path themselves with Pittsburgh, Tampa, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Baltimore the Giants and Vikings.

Green Bay gets Philadelphia, the Giants, Minnesota, Atlanta, Dallas and Pittsburgh in addition to the Lions and Bears twice.

Other than each other, none of the three NFC North contenders has a team with a winning record left on its schedule.

The reality of the NFL today and the Bears playoff chase is at least one among the Bears, Packers and Lions is going to fail to make the playoffs, and they will have absolutely no one to blame but themselves. Their schedules couldn’t be easier, and the prize is there for the taking.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him a harkush@shawmedia.com.

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