By Michael Bacos
After an 0-3 start, the Bears have managed to shove their way into the playoff conversation after their Thanksgiving upset of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
The Bears are 5-6, one game behind the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons for the last NFC wild card spot. There are three other 5-6 teams, but two of those, the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, are tied for the East lead. Chicago’s 2-5 conference record, a potential wild card tiebreaker, is the worst among the 5-6 teams.
First-year Bears coach John Fox reportedly considers the win against the Packers “relevant” in the NFC playoff picture.
“We fell behind where we wanted to be in the win-loss record, so to be relevant, that was kind of a must-win, just like this week will be,” Fox told ESPN.
Bears cornerback Tracy Porter sees playoff potential.
#Bears CB Tracy Porter, who won a Super Bowl with New Orleans: “There’s definitely ingredients here for a playoff team.”
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) November 30, 2015
On Sunday, the Bears will face the San Francisco 49ers (3-8) at Soldier Field. The Niners have been dealing with injuries to running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Colin Kaepernick and have lost their last two games.
In the last three games since becoming the primary running back, Shaun Draughn has rushed 43 times for 146 yards — just 3.4 yards per carry — but has 17 catches for 113 yards.
Last week, the Bears gave up 177 yards on 28 carries. San Francisco might try to focus on the ground game, too.
“We just got to get better on run defense — and that’s what our focus has got to be in,” Bears outside linebacker Pernell McPhee told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Since replacing Kaepernick, backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert has completed 62 of 95 passes for 767 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions in three games. Last week, he threw for 318 yards, a career high, in a 19-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Bears’ defensive backs have been a concern at times this season. But the secondary helped Chicago make a defensive stand at the end of the game last week, when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw four incomplete passes in a row.
The Bears’ new defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, is the former defensive coordinator for the Niners, so he should be familiar with the team. And Fox has found great success against the 49ers.
Teams coached by John Fox are 4-0 against the 49ers.
— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) December 1, 2015
The Bears open up as a seven-point favorite according to ESPN. A win would bring the team to .500 for the first time this season as Chicago tries to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.