Despite their first loss since October, the Bears woke up Monday morning in the same playoff position they were in to begin Week 13 — firmly gripping the NFC's third seed.
But Chicago will wake up Tuesday morning with a new tentative wild-card weekend opponent, with one-quarter of the season remaining.
At 8-4, Chicago currently would host Washington (6-5 pending its visit to the 5-6 Philadelphia Eagles on "Monday Night Football"). However, if Colt McCoy's crew — which enters tonight as six-point 'dogs — upsets the reigning Super Bowl champs, it would move ahead of the Seattle Seahawks and into the No. 5 seed by virtue of a tiebreaker (conference record).
That means a Washington win potentially could send Seattle back to Soldier Field the first weekend in January.
However, if the Eagles win, as our staff expects, the Minnesota Vikings (6-5-1) would slide back into the sixth spot, one day after their loss in Foxboro. That would set up another Soldier Field rematch.
Got all that?
It seems likely that the Bears needn't worry too much any longer about the possibility of facing old pal Ron Rivera's Carolina Panthers in the playoffs. As their fourth consecutive loss dropped the Panthers to 6-6, they're in jeopardy of falling behind the Eagles in the wild card race. And although Washington clearly is the club the Bears would most want to open the playoffs against, that wacky Week 2 tie between the Vikings and Packers, much less Alex Smith's injury, also makes that possibility unlikely.
The Eagles are severely thinned out in the secondary but still dominated the Giants club that hung 30 (albeit with a defensive touchdown and average starting field position at their 31) on the Bears Sunday in the second half of Week 12. They obviously also have Super Bowl pedigree, and elite game-wreckers up front.
Which team would Bears fans prefer to face wild-card weekend, the Seahawks or Vikings? The answer might be Minnesota, which has a 2-3-1 road record (Seattle is 4-3) and a quarterback whose next postseason win will be his first.
Neither Kirk Cousins nor Russell Wilson played well in defeat at Soldier Field earlier this season, but Seattle gave the Bears a slightly stiffer challenge — without stalwart LBs Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright and their No. 1 receiver, Doug Baldwin.
The Vikings and Seahawks have similar O-line issues, but only Wilson has the escapability to offset them — though he was sacked a season-high six times in Chicago and 12 combined times in the first two weeks. Wilson is having a much better season overall than Cousins (8.3 YPA to 7.1; 115.5 rating to 99.1) despite lacking as much firepower in his pass-catching arsenal.
Defensively, the Vikings (No. 6 in DVOA) are stouter vs. the run (4th) and pass (8th), but the Seahawks (No. 10) aren't slouches. However, easily Seattle's biggest susceptibility — defending the run — juxtaposes the Bears' biggest weakness on offense.
Of course, tonight won't be Bears fans' last primetime opportunity to do some advance postseason scouting. Minnesota visits Seattle one week from tonight in a game that could bury the Vikings altogether if they're to lose again. And it will come on the heels of the Bears looking to get back in the win column against arguably the best team in football in the Los Angeles Rams.
We'll be back breaking down the updated playoff picture in each of the next three weeks, but regardless of whether you're leaning toward Minnesota, Seattle or even Philadelphia as a preferred wild-card round foe, tonight carries major implications.