A weekly examination of the Bears’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:
Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 14 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002
The Chicago Bears dropped a spot in the NFC North standings by virtue of their 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and also fell back one place in the ESPN.com Power Rankings from 14th to No. 15, the team’s lowest ranking since the start of the season.
The Bears severely jeopardized their postseason aspirations with the defeat at Minnesota, and the degree of difficulty only increases with the club facing a well-rested Dallas Cowboys team Monday night at Soldier Field. Because of a putrid 3-6 conference record, Chicago more or less needs to win the NFC North to advance to the playoffs.
That’s still possible, but the Bears need the first-place Lions to slip over the next four weeks.
The possible good news is that the Bears could welcome back starting quarterback Jay Cutler and stalwart linebacker Lance Briggs for the matchup against the Cowboys. Briggs hasn’t played since Oct. 20, and Cutler has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain. Bears coach Marc Trestman said the team won’t know about their availability until later in the week, but if they return, it could boost some life into a team mired in a two-game skid.
Despite an awful showing against the run at Minnesota, the Bears did pump up the pass rush in part because of healthier bodies along the defensive line -- a situation expected to improve as new addition Jeremiah Ratliff works back into playing shape. The addition of Briggs should at least bring back some stability in the front seven.
Elsewhere in the NFC North, the first-place Lions moved up one spot to 12th in this week’s rankings, while the Green Bay Packers fell another two spots to No. 19. The Packers have fallen two slots in each of the past four weeks with quarterback Aaron Rodgers out. There’s a chance the quarterback could return for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Minnesota, meanwhile, remained at No. 28 despite its win over the Bears.
The Bears received two 14th-place votes from the panelists, one for No. 15, two for 16th, and one for the No. 19 spot.
While the games remaining on the schedule certainly appear to be winnable, it’s worth pondering how much fight the Bears have left in them. After the loss to the Vikings, the scene in the locker room was one of dejection and regret for missing out on a prime opportunity, and some players even wondered privately whether the defeat ended the club’s season.
For the Bears to have any chance of advancing to the postseason, they’ll need to forget about the disappointment from the past two outings and focus on the task at hand, while knowing in the back of their minds they still might need help to make the playoffs even if they win out.