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Winning NFC North only route to playoffs for Bears, Packers, Lions

Interactive graphic: Jay Cutler's stats compared to franchise quarterbacks
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Updated: December 18, 2013 1:06PM



If the Bears are in the driver’s seat in the NFC North, then the Packers are right next to them on the passenger’s side.

Thanks to the Lions’ self-destructive ways — and to Justin Tucker’s 61-yard field goal in the last minute of the Ravens’ 18-16 victory Monday in Detroit — the Bears and Packers can win the NFC North by winning out.

Of course, only one of them can do that because the teams square off Dec. 29 at Soldier Field in a game that is looking more compelling by the minute. But the Eagles come first for the Bears on Sunday night.

‘‘I know they’re a very talented team,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. ‘‘They’ve got great athletes, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. And their defense is very, very multiple. They do everything.’’

That said, here’s how the NFC North race shakes out:

Bears

Record: 8-6.

Remaining games: at
Eagles, vs. Packers.

How they got here: The Bears looked to be done
after demoralizing defeats at the Rams and Vikings. But winning back-to-back games while the Lions self-imploded has given the Bears the
opportunity they’ve wanted. The Bears have proved to be resilient, whether it’s overcoming injuries or quarterback Jay Cutler silencing his critics in his return Sunday in Cleveland.

Outlook: Win out, and the NFC North and a wild card-round game against a mild-climate team at Soldier Field belongs to the Bears. They also can clinch the division with a victory against the
Eagles if the Packers and Lions lose earlier in the day. The Bears can’t make the playoffs as a wild-card team.

Packers

Record: 7-6-1.

Remaining games: vs. Steelers, at Bears.

How they got here: Shea McClellin’s collarbone-breaking sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 4 quickly turned into an 0-4-1 stretch for the Packers. Backup Matt Flynn’s re-emergence, including 914 passing yards, six touchdowns and a 91.1 passer rating in four games and three starts, has kept the Packers alive. They’ve won their last two games in dramatic fashion.

Outlook: It all starts with Rodgers, who might return Sunday against the Steelers. Thanks to Flynn, Rodgers has something to play for again. If the Packers lose to the Steelers and the Bears beat the Eagles, the Packers are out. Making the playoffs as a wild-card team isn’t an option.

Lions

Record: 7-7.

Remaining games: vs.
Giants, at Vikings.

How they got here: The Lions, a poorly disciplined team with a turnover-prone quarterback, swept the Bears and boast a 4-1 record in the division, but they’ve lost four of their last five. Tucker’s decisive field goal Monday was just icing on the cake.

Outlook: Winning out guarantees the Lions nothing. They need the Bears and Packers to lose Sunday. If the Bears and Packers win Sunday, the Lions are eliminated.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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