Win or Go Home

Lake Forest - While an 8-8 team from the NFC might well make the playoffs this season, it won't be the Bears because they are in terrible shape regarding tie-breakers.

But, if they do manage to win out, coach Lovie Smith's team is virtually guaranteed of a postseason berth, even though five other teams are tied with them at 5-7, just one game out of the final postseason position. That spot currently belongs to the rapidly fading 6-6 Seattle Seahawks, who have lost three of their last four games and allowed a whopping 81 points while losing back-to-back games. Most of the NFC teams still in contention have not been performing as if they belong in the postseason.

The Rams presently occupy the No. 5 spot at 6-6 because they have a tie-breaker advantage over the Seahawks, having beaten them twice, but they've had trouble defeating anyone else recently. The Rams had lost four of five before they defeated the 1-11 49ers last week.

But the Rams have a tie-breaker advantage in the all-important conference record, which comes into play if tied teams haven't met face-to-face. The Rams are 6-3 in the NFC. The Bears are 4-6 in the NFC, the worst conference record of all the 5-7 teams with the exception of the Giants, who aren't really contenders anyway, having lost five straight.

The Giants are the only one of the seven on-the-bubble teams that the Bears have beaten head-to-head. The Bears have lost to the Cowboys, the Lions (although they have a rematch on Dec. 26) and the Bucs, while they don't play the Panthers, Rams or Seahawks.

Is this a playoff team?

"We're in the playoff race," Smith said. "If we win out, we feel like we're going to the playoffs. So is this a playoff team? Yes. I mean, I'm head coach of this crew here. We have a lot of confidence in them. We think we can get it done. We think we can make that playoff run. We realize it's a game at a time. We realize how important this game is this week, but we have a lot of confidence in our team right now."

The Bears would become just the fourth team in 14 years to make the playoffs after a 5-7 start and only the third to qualify for the postseason after opening 4-7.

The toughest part of the equation figures to be this week against a 6-6 Jacksonville team fighting for its playoff life in the AFC. The Jaguars have lost three straight and four of five while averaging just 15.2 points per game. But their three losses at home have been by a total of 11 points to the Colts, Steelers and Titans, who have a combined record of 24-12.

"It's not going to be easy," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "Jacksonville ... we're worried about them right now. They're a tough team. They play well. They lost a tough one Sunday night (17-16 to the Steelers), but they're a good, physical football team. That would be a big win if we could get that one. That's a big challenge for us."


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