While a second-half collapse has put their postseason hopes in doubt, the Chicago Bears managed to stay alive with a big win last weekend.
Now, another victory coupled with some help from their archrival would allow them to sneak in.
Visiting Chicago first tries to get past Calvin Johnson and the slumping Detroit Lions on Sunday before turning its attention to a late-afternoon showdown between the NFC North's other two teams.
The Bears (9-6) surely had their sights set on the division crown after opening 7-1 but they'd gladly settle for one of the conference's two wild-card spots.
Chicago heads into the final week of the regular season on the outside of the playoff picture but could still get in with a victory at Ford Field and a Green Bay win at Minnesota later in the day.
"This time of year, you want to be in it, you want to be relevant, and we are," coach Lovie Smith said. "We have a chance, and that's all you can hope for. It's not an ideal situation that we're in. But hopefully we can take care of business and do all that we can do. And from there, after we've gotten ourselves in this position, that's about all we can hope for."
Chicago, which has won just two of its last seven after last Sunday's 28-13 victory at Arizona, appears to have another favorable matchup against a Detroit team that's given up an average of 31.9 points during a seven-game losing streak. The Bears have taken eight of nine in this series, including a 13-7 win Oct. 22.
"It's safe to say (the Lions) are disappointed in their season, so they would love nothing more than to make us disappointed for the rest of the year," Jay Cutler told the Bears' official website. "This is a big game. Last week was a big game. We've got to win. There is nothing else to be said about it... these are the games you've got to have.
"It's just like any other game: red zone, third down, ball security; if we do all of those things and hopefully get the running game going a little bit, we should be fine."
Chicago, though, could have a hard time with Matt Forte banged up. The fifth-year back, who's compiled 1,075 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns over those last nine matchups against the Lions (4-11), left last weekend's game with an ankle injury but went through a full practice Friday and is listed as probable.
Smith was also hopeful about Brian Urlacher's chances of playing for the first time since injuring his hamstring in Week 13. Urlacher went through a limited practice Friday in his first workout since suffering the injury but is listed as doubtful, likely leaving the Bears short-handed as they try to contain Johnson.
The All-Pro wideout hauled in 11 receptions for a season-high 225 yards last Saturday in a 31-18 loss to Atlanta, surpassing Jerry Rice's NFL single-season record with 1,892 yards. Johnson is also the first player to post 100 yards receiving in eight consecutive games and 10 catches in four straight.
"Personal records are great, and we certainly celebrate the season Calvin that has had, but it hasn't translated to enough wins," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We need more help around him."
Johnson, though, was held to season lows in the October loss, finishing with only three catches for 34 yards.
Matthew Stafford could also enter his name into the record books with a big game Sunday. Stafford, who's thrown for 4,695 passing yards, has a chance to become the first player to record 5,000 in back-to-back seasons. New Orleans' Drew Brees (4,781) and New England's Tom Brady (4,543) could also get there.
"I'd love to be able to be able to do it again," Stafford said. "But I'd love for it to come with a win."
Despite enduring their fair share of frustrations this season, the Lions appear to be plenty motivated for Sunday's showdown. They're hoping to snap their longest skid since going 0-16 in 2008.
"You want to end the season on a high note. Last year we were a playoff team - unless you win the Super Bowl you're not winning your last game," Schwartz told the team's official website. "It does give you a little bit of feeling going into the offseason. It's one of 16, but it is the last one that we play.
"Nobody wants teams to celebrate at your own expense. I think that's important."
While Johnson was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, Chicago will be represented by fellow receiver Brandon Marshall along with Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton. Marshall has already posted career highs of 113 catches, 1,466 yards and 11 TDs in his first season with the Bears.
The Associated Press News Service
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