- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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So despite one game remaining, against NFC North foe Green Bay on Sunday, the Bears can't do any worse than the No. 2 seed, meaning they will receive a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs. The Bears, already teeming with good health, won't have to play after Sunday until the weekend of Jan. 15-16, with its road to the Super Bowl shortened by a game.
While highly unlikely, things could get better still for the Bears.
A victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday and combined with losses by the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints would hand the No. 1 seed to the Bears, which guarantees homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Adding to Chicago's good fortune from the Eagles' loss is the elimination of the possibility that if the Bears lost to the Packers on Sunday, they would have had to face them again the next weekend in the playoffs.
Since 1990, when the league expanded to a 12-team format, clubs in both conferences earning the top two seeds for the postseason have come off the first-round bye to produce a record of 59-21.
NFC teams receiving first-round byes have come off the break to post a record of 33-7.
Apparently, the first-round bye won't change the Bears' approach against the Packers.
Shortly after the Vikings defeated the Eagles, Bears safety Chris Harris tweeted: "To make1 thing clear just cause we got the 1st rd bye 2nite don't think we just plan on rolling over Sun against Green Bay #notgonnahappen."
It shouldn't because the Bears still haven't totally peaked in all facets, which is exactly what needs to occur for the team to avoid a one-and-done situation in the postseason. The offensive line needs work, the receivers need to continue building their chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler, and the defense needs to regain its swagger after giving up nearly 400 yards against the New York Jets.
"I expect to play the whole game," Cutler said Wednesday. "That's how we're preparing at this point."
Two players -- receiver Johnny Knox and running back Matt Forte -- look to reach milestones Sunday at Green Bay. Knox needs 40 yards receiving to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, and Forte needs to gain 22 yards on the ground to reach 1,000 yards for the first time since his rookie season.
"Injuries play such a big part in team success right now," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We have most of our guys healthy. I think there's a reason for that. For us, it just seems like we have to play our best ball this week in Game 16. It's the Packers and the Bears. That in itself really makes you play your best ball. There's a lot on the line for us, and we just want to continue to get better."
But can they, with a week of inactivity?
Under Smith, the Bears are 1-1 coming off a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"We've had everything against us, and nobody really believed except the guys in the locker room," Harris said. "We still expect it to be that way. We're happy with the position we've put ourselves in, to get a chance for the first-round bye in the playoffs."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
22hMel Kiper Jr.
2dEric D. Williams