The Chicago Bears handled their business Monday night, thoroughly steam-rolling the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys seemed to have something going in the first quarter, but the Bears figured them out and ran away in a laugher.
The game had playoff implications, with both teams in the divisional hunt. The Bears win moves them into a tie for first place in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions. The Lions hold the tiebreaker, having swept the Bears, but there is a whole lot of football left. Add in the Green Bay Packers sitting a half game back of first place, and the NFC North is going to come down to the wire.
Speaking of which, the NFC East remains a wild one at the top. The Cowboys loss drops them a game back of the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the division. The Cowboys are still in decent shape because they already beat the Eagles in Philadelphia, and host them to close the season.
For now, it gives the 49ers a two-game lead on the Cowboys, while they maintain their one-game lead over the Arizona Cardinals.
What does this all mean for the 49ers? They head into Week 15 with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. It requires a lot of help, but technically, they have a chance. How would that be? Well, here is the formula based on the Week 15 schedule:
49ers @ Buccaneers - 49ers WIN. Duh
Cardinals @ Titans - Cardinals LOSE. This would drop them two back of the 49ers with two to go. If two teams in the same division finish tied in the wildcard standings, and split head-to-head, the next tiebreaker is divisional record. The Cardinals are currently 1-3 in the division, the 49ers are 4-1. That is settled.
Eagles @ Vikings/Packers @ Cowboys - Eagles, Cowboys LOSE. This would drop the Eagles two back of the 49ers, and the Cowboys three back of the 49ers. That mathematically removes the Cowboys from the 49ers wildcard spot. More importantly, if the Eagles went on to win their final two games, it means they would win the NFC East by virtue of a Week 17 win over the Cowboys. That leaves the 49ers with the wildcard. Does this part of the equation make sense?
The odds of all this happening are not entirely out of the realm of the possible, but I am not holding my breath for it. The Packers are expected to start Matt Flynn in Dallas. I suppose the Cowboys could continue to implode, so there is that. Eagles at Vikings is a potential upset candidate, although the Vikings very well could be without Adrian Peterson. Cardinals-Titans is also an upset possibility. So, I suppose it's not entirely crazy.
This is just to clinch a playoff berth. There will still be opportunities to gain ground elsewhere. The Seahawks will be facing off against the recently eliminated New York Giants in the Meadowlands. A Seahawks loss drops them to one game up on the 49ers. If the 49ers won their final two games and the Seahawks split their final two games, the 49ers would suddenly find themselves tied with Seattle. In that case, they would claim the tiebreaker based on divisional record (Seahawks would be 4-2 at best, 49ers would be 5-1). This is assuming the Seahawks lose to the Giants and then lose one of their two remaining home games. I'm not holding my breath.
The Carolina Panthers host the New York Jets next week. If the 49ers win and the Panthers lose, the 49ers would climb from the No. 6 seed to the No. 5 seed. The Jets are wildly inconsistent, so who knows what to expect.