The 9-1 Bears can clinch the NFC North title Sunday with a victory over the 7-3 Patriots in New England plus a loss or tie by the 4-6 Packers at Seattle against the 6-4 Seahawks and a loss or tie by the 4-6 Vikings, who are at home against the 2-8 Arizona Cardinals. A Bears tie and losses by their two NFC North foes would also clinch the division.
That would give the Bears five weeks of essentially playing for nothing more significant than home-field advantage, and they hold a three-game edge in the NFC over the Giants, Cowboys, Panthers, Saints and Seahawks, all of whom are 6-4.
Coach Lovie Smith said he hasn't even begun to contemplate how to keep his team focused once they've clinched everything worth playing for and are preparing for the playoffs.
"Some guys can probably think that far ahead, but I can't," Smith said. "I can tell you a lot about New England, and we have a tough game against them this week. We're trying to get that 10th win. It's just one week at a time, that's about all I can handle."
But the end of the Bears' toughest stretch of the season is in sight, with just Sunday's 3:15 p.m. game remaining to complete the three-game East Coast swing on which they've won the first two (over the Giants and Jets).
"A few weeks ago, we had a three-game road stretch that just looking at it on paper, we knew it would be a tough task," Smith said. "The Patriots are one of the best teams in the league every year. It'll be a big challenge for our team going up there and playing them on their home turf, but a challenge that our football team is looking forward to."