Week 14 – Bears have 71% chance of winning NFC North
I know that this is a political blog and breaks in theme are problematic, but please; indulge me, as this has been really bugging me this week and no one reads this blog anyway.
Currently a game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North and tied with the New Orleans Saints with the second best record in the NFC (9-3), most are acting like the Bears have already written their ticket to the playoffs and now it’s just a matter of bye-weeks and home field advantage. I wish I could be so optimistic, but my experience sobbing and throwing up on myself following Super Bowl XLI taught me it’s always best to prepare for the worst. And the Bears’ schedule over the next 4 weeks have “epic collapse” written all over it.
It features against the perennially awesome New England Patriots. It also features the desperate Jets, the resurgent Vikings and our nemesis and main competition for the NFC North championship, the Green Bay Packers, in the last game of the regular season. Meanwhile the Saints are probably going to take a Wild Card slot because they share a division with Atlanta, and the other Wild Card slot will almost certainly go to 2nd place in either the NFC North or the NFC East. The Bears beat the Eagles and lost to the Giants.
The relevant teams are the Bears, Eagles, Giants, Packers, Falcons, and Saints (with an outside chance for the Buccaneers). Between those 7 teams there are 268,435,456 possible win/loss scenarios, I’ll try to narrow it down to the most relevant scenarios.
If the Bears win more or the same number of games as the Packers, Bears go to the playoffs.
If the Bears lose 1 more game than the Packers down the stretch, things get tricky
Tie Breaker 1: The first question is whether the Bears beat the Packers in week 17; if they do, then the Bears win by nature of their head to head record. If the Packers win, it goes on to the division record.
Bears lose 1 more than Packers, Packers win week 17
Tie Breaker 2: Aside from their week 17 head to head match-up, both the Bears and the Packers have 1 remaining division game (Bears against the Vikings, Packers against the Lions). If one wins and the other loses this other division game, the NFC North goes to whoever beats this other divisional opponent. If they both win or if they both lose, their divisional records are the same (5-1), so we go onto the 3rd tie-breaker, which is record in common games.
Bears lose 1 more than the Packers, the Packers beat the Bears week 17, (the Bears beat the Vikings and the Packers beat the Lions OR the Bears lose to the Vikings and the Packers lose to the Lions)
Tie Breaker 3: Aside from divisional opponents the Bears and Packers have eight common opponents. These are the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins, the Buffalo Bills, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants, the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. The Bears’ record thus far is 4-2, with the Patriots and Jets remaining. The Packers’ record thus far is also 4-2, with the Patriots and Giants remaining. So this tie breaker comes down to their records in these 4 games (Bears vs. Patriots, week 14; Bears vs. Jets, week 15; Packers vs. Patriots, week 15; Packers vs. Giants, week 16).
That said, the 3rd tie breaker is irrelevant, because if either side gets a better record than the other in these 2 games, it’s impossible to get to the 3rd tie breaker. In order to get to the 3rd tie breaker the Packers have to gain 1 game on the Bears, the Bears have to lose to the Packers in week 17 and both the Bears and the Packers have to have the same result in their final non-head-to-head divisional game, meaning the Packers will have to have netted 1 game between their 2 divisional games. That means that if either team has a better common record than the other, the Packers can’t have netted 1 game in their divisional games and wind up with a total net gain of 1 game.
In short that means if you get to tie breaker 3, you inherently get to tie breaker 4.
They get to tie breaker 3/both have same record in remaining 2 common games.
Tie Breaker 4: The conference record. Right now the Bears have a 7-3 conference record and the Packers have a 6-3 conference record. In order to get to the 4th tie breaker the Bears have to lose to the Packers, making the Bears’ conference record 7-4 and the Packers’ conference record 7-3. Also, the Bears and Packers have to have the same result in their other divisional game, making the Bears’ conference record either 8-4 or 7-5 and the Packers’ conference record either 8-3 or 7-4. Subsequently, if they get to the 4th tie breaker, it comes down to the result of the Packers – Giants game week 16. If the Packers win (meaning the Bears beat either the Jets or the Patriots – or they both win both of their remaining non-divisional common games) the Packers win the 4th tie breaker and subsequently win the NFC North. If the Packers lose (meaning the Bears lost to either the Jets or the Patriots, or both lose the rest of their remaining non-divisional common games), their conference records are the same, and so on we go to the 5th tie breaker.
Packers lose to Giants, Bears lose at least 1 of remaining non-divisional common games.
Tie Breaker 5: Strength of victory. Thus far the record of the teams the Bears have beaten is 38-70 and the record of teams the Packers is 39-57. Presuming the Packers beat the Bears the Packers’ strength of victory goes to 48-61. Naturally, this can change pretty wildly, but realistically if it gets to the 5th tie breaker chances are the Packers will win the division.
There are 128 possible W-L results between the Bears and the Packers over the next 4 games. 79 (or 62%) of them have the Bears winning without the need for a tie breaker. There are 26 (20%) where they have the same record. There are 23 (18%) where the Packers win the division outright. Out of the 26 ties (and assuming Packers win the 5th tie-breaker) the Bears win in 12 scenarios, or 46% of the time. The Packers win in 16, or 54% of scenarios. So if we were to assume everyone is equally likely to win each game, the chance that the Bears win the NFC North would be 71%, giving the Packers a 29% shot.
So chances are quite good the Bears will make the playoffs. The biggest concern is that what’s probably the most likely result (Bears beat Vikings and Jets, Packers beat Lions, Giants and Bears) ends with the Packers winning the NFC North using the 4th tie breaker (the upside of this result is the Bears would be 11-5, meaning the Giants would need to win 3 of their next 4 to get the 2nd wild card spot). Another big one is that if the Bears come into week 17 with a 1 game lead over the Packers, the game is in effect a must-win for the Bears. There are only 4 scenarios out of 20 where the Packers win in week 17 to tie the Bears where the Bears win the tie breaker (Bears lose to Patriots/Jets and Packers, beat Vikings and Jets, Packers lose to Lions, beat Patriots, Giants and Bears; Bears lose to Patriots, Jets and Packers, Packers lose to Patriots/Giants and Lions, beat the Bears).
This gets us to the question of the wild card. Right now the Bears have the same record as the New Orleans Saints, who are the front-runners for the top wild card spot. The Eagles, Giants and Packers are all 1 game back at 8-4. Naturally if the Bears are still a game ahead of either the Giants or the Eagles (whoever doesn’t win the NFC East) they get the wild card spot. If the Bears are either in a 3 way tie with the Saints and Giants or are in a tie with the Giants behind the Saints, the Bears are out of the playoffs. If instead the Giants win the NFC East and the Eagles are thrust into the same position, the Bears get the wild card spot.
So Bears fans, these are the most important games left in the regular season:
Packers vs. Lions, Week 14 (go Lions!)
Bears vs. Vikings, Week 15 (go Bears!)
Eagles vs. Giants, Week 15 (go Giants!)
Packers vs. Giants, Week 16 (go Giants!)
Bears vs. Packers, Week 17 (go Bears!)