A 7-1 start to the season has come down to a must-win game and relying on your biggest rival to help you out. It's not exactly the way the Bears envisioned Week 17 playing out, but if the Bears hope to avoid missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, they have to beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday and hope the Green Bay Packer knock off the Minnesota Vikings.
If that happens, and the Bears make the playoffs, does that warrant a contract extension for Lovie Smith? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: After getting shut down in their first meeting, Calvin Johnson will have a big game against the Bears.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Johnson wants to be the first player in NFL history to top 2,000 receiving yards. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could reach 5,000 passing yards. Outside of Johnson, there aren't many other options on Detroit's offense. Add it all up: Johnson should get the ball early and often on Sunday. But that doesn't mean the Lions will win. Johnson's been on fire for much of the season and Detroit has lost seven straight. So it's not like the Bears will lose if they don't stop Johnson.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Johnson can top 2,000 yards on Sunday to become the first receiver to eclipse that mark in a single season. With 117 catches for 1,892 yards and five touchdowns, Johnson needs 108 yards to reach 2,000. So look for the Lions to put some effort into freeing up Johnson to reach this milestone. Lions coach Jim Schwartz complimented offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for devising creative schemes to get the ball into the hands of Johnson, who will likely line up in several spots on Sunday, after catching just three balls for 34 yards the first time these teams met. Johnson will also have the hometown crowd behind him, not to mention a team hungry to help him reach 2,000, and break a seven-game losing streak, while ruining Chicago's season.
Scott Powers: Fiction. Johnson may have himself an above-average game just as Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and Randall Cobb had against the Bears, but I don't foresee Johnson going off for some astronomical performance. The Bears cornerbacks are just too good for that to happen. Pro Bowl selections Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have been two of the NFL's top defensive backs this season, and they haven't allowed any receiver to have a massive game. Johnson will likely do better than his three-reception, 34-yard game the last time he faced the Bears, but I'd say it's 50/50 for him to gain much for than 100 yards and catch more than one touchdown.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Johnson is on a tear and has a chance for 2,000 yards. Two games after the Bears locked him up Johnson started his Megatron run, gaining more than 100 yards for eight straight games. But the Lions are 1-7 in those games. So Johnson's big game definitely doesn't equal a Detroit victory..
Fact or Fiction: The biggest obstacle for the Bears getting into the playoffs is the Packers beating the Vikings, not Chicago beating the Lions.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction: Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The late game in the Metrodome won't mean anything if the Bears don't first take care of business in Ford Field. The Bears are their biggest enemy. Can the offense score more than two touchdowns? Will the Henry Melton trash-talking this week backfire? Will Matt Forte be limited with a bad ankle? These are far more pressing issues for the Bears and their biggest obstacle on Sunday.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The chances seem almost equal for either scenario transpiring. Just because it's the mighty Packers doesn't mean the Vikings have no shot at winning this ballgame. First off, the Vikings are playing at home, and their deafening crowd noise will be a factor for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack. Another obstacle for Rodgers is Minnesota's pass rush led by Jared Allen. Everyone knows Allen plays even faster when he's in front of the home crowd. The last time the teams played back on Dec. 2, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gashed the Packers for 210 yards rushing. If Peterson is being that productive, it means the Packers aren't getting many offensive possessions to put points on the board. With the postseason on the line for the Vikings -- which have won three in a row by the way -- Peterson needs 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. The truth is the Packers are on the road facing a hungry Vikings team with arguably the league's best running back ... and he's motivated. This certainly doesn't appear to be a gimme for the Packers, which need a win to clinch the No. 2 seed.
Scott Powers: Fact. I'm confident the Bears will beat the Lions. I'm not so confident the Packers will take care of the Vikings. The Lions' seven-game losing streak has a lot to do with my confidence in the Bears. As for the Vikings, they've been one of the hottest teams in the NFL in recent weeks and have been nearly invincible at home. They've lost just once this season in Minnesota. The Vikings also have more riding on Sunday's game than the Packers.
Fact. I'm going to reverse my argument from the Hot Button. I have a great feeling about the Bears beating Detroit. After that palate-cleansing win over Arizona, they're confident again and that will translate onto the field. The Bears love to pick on the bums of the league. While the Packers have a lot to play for, and should be able to pull out this win on the road, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson and should be pumped to sneak into the playoffs. Green Bay has to find the edge to get that No. 2 seed.
Fact or Fiction: The season will be salvaged if the Bears make the playoffs.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction: The Bears got off to a 7-1 start. The playoffs should have been a given, so the fact the Bears find themselves in this situation is an indictment on the entire franchise. The only way the season can be "salvaged" is for the Bears to win a Super Bowl. Shouldn't that always be the goal?
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Certainly, the Bears will give off that impression. But really it depends on how far the Bears advance into the postseason. If this is a one-and-done situation, the Bears didn't salvage anything after starting the season 7-1. The Bears need to win a couple of games to call the season "salvaged."
Scott Powers: Fiction. Even though the Bears are flawed this season, the bar for this franchise still isn't set at simply the playoffs. Getting to the playoffs is an achievement for a team like the Indianapolis Colts with a rookie quarterback. It's not for the Bears. The Bears didn't go out and get a franchise quarterback and wide receiver to just make the playoffs. The goal remains to win the Super Bowl, and anything short of that is a failure.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The season will only be salvaged if the Bears win a playoff game, considering they'll be road underdogs. If the Bears can win at San Francisco, exorcising the demons of the past, you have to reconsider the way you judge this season. It's a little odd that Bears fans are so down on this team on the eve of a must-win game. In a normal season, this would be such an exciting scenario. Instead, fans and media are captivated by the behind-the-scenes intrigue at Halas Hall. Will Lovie Smith be back for Year 10? If the Bears get waxed in San Francisco, I think Smith is out. If they win, he's back..
Fact or Fiction: If the Bears make the playoffs, Lovie should be given an extension.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction: Smith deserves a contract extension only if Bears' ownership and general manager Phil Emery believe he can win the franchise a Super Bowl. That's it. There's no middle ground. Maybe the Bears truly think Smith is the guy to lead the organization to a championship. If so, then it's their right to award him an extension. If not, the Bears need to go in another direction. It's their call. The Bears have had nine years to evaluate Smith, so to base his future on the outcome of two games against sub-par competition would be unfair. Either commit to him, or don't. All I can say is the Bears better make the right call, or we'll be having this conversation again in a couple of years.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Making the postseason isn't good enough. But at the same time, surely general manager Phil Emery will realize that Smith wasn't blessed this season with the best in terms of overall talent on offense. Despite all that's been said, the team's struggles this season didn't come as a result of bad coaching. While it would save the Bears a lot of grief by avoiding putting Smith into a lame-duck situation, giving the coach an extension wouldn't necessarily be the best move for the team. The scenario I envision is Emery working feverishly to upgrade the talent on offense (especially the offensive line) and depth on defense this offseason, and making Smith go into the final season of his contract with something to prove. Smith is a confident enough coach to handle such a situation. Halfway through the season, if Smith's team is producing, you give him the extension then. Smith knows his pedigree as a coach, and likely wouldn't have a problem being thrust into that type of situation.
Scott Powers: Fiction. If the Bears reach the Super Bowl, we can talk about an extension. Anything less than that, and Smith should fear for his job. The Bears have reached the playoffs in three of Smith's first eight seasons and have gone 3-3 in the playoffs in those years. That's not satisfactory. Even if they limp into the playoffs this season, that shouldn't be deemed a success. The Bears' failures haven't all been Smith's fault, but it's his turn to take the fall. Unless the Bears make some miraculous run in the playoffs in the coming weeks, it's time for the Bears to part ways with Smith.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Making the playoffs isn't enough for this team. It's tough for me to say a coach should be fired after making the playoffs, but the expectations for this team, for better or worse, were greater than just getting in. Now one win, while not that much more impressive, would probably be enough to get Smith two more years tacked onto the one he has left. Smith should get an extension if Phil Emery is confident he is the man to lead this team in the future. I don't know what Emery's vision for the future is, but unless he thinks he can find the right offensive leadership for Lovie, I don't see how Smith gets an extension without winning one playoff game.