It appears that the playoffs will be starting early with a pair of NFC elimination games. The NFC north features a matchup between two thoroughly inconsistent teams, the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
After Green Bay’s loss to the Steelers during the early round of games on Sunday, the Bears had a golden opportunity to claim the NFC North title, but instead, Chicago was promptly obliterated by the Eagles in primetime.
In one corner, we have the Bears, who are rolling with Jay Cutler at quarterback after he was adequately replaced by backup Josh McCown. Since returning to action, Cutler has been lackluster at best, and should he struggle early against the Packers, we may have a full-blown quarterback controversy. More on that later.
In the other corner, the Green Bay Packers are moving forward with Matt Flynn. With Aaron Rodgers still sidelined, the Packers have no options beyond Flynn, and to his credit, he’s done relatively well in short order.
The de-facto NFC North championship game will be played in Chicago, which would normally be an advantage for the Bears, but with Jay Cutler struggling, the home crowd could actually work against the Bears. If Cutler is struggling with his confidence on the field, and it’s hard to imagine he’s not, a hostile crowd could harm his level of play.
There’s little doubt that the fate of the NFC North will be determined by the quarterbacks playing on Sunday. If both quarterbacks play well, the advantage will fall to the Bears who have a roster with fewer holes than the Packers.
If, however, the Bears get off to a slow start on offense, their fate may be decided by how quickly head coach Marc Trestman is willing to pull the plug on Jay Cutler. Ideally, the Bears would be able to stick with Cutler and make it into the postseason, but with the entire season on the line, there’s no guarantee that the Bears will be able to have their cake and eat it too.
Ultimately, the Bears’ quarterback situation is a serious threat to their season. If Chicago was going with Josh McCown, who has been nothing but solid in his time on the field this season. The problem is that the Bears have a great interest in sticking with Cutler, and that may prevent Trestman from pulling the plug on Cutler early enough in week 17.
Because the Bears were unable to close the deal against the Eagles on Sunday night, they’ve given the Packers a golden opportunity to play their way into the playoffs without Aaron Rodgers. If Jay Cutler plays up to his potential, the Bears will still likely find themselves at the top of the NFC North and in the playoffs. If, however, Jay Cutler plays as ineffectively as he did against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Bears will have to move quickly in replacing him with Josh McCown. If they fall behind too early, their response will determine whether they make the playoffs or fall victim to their own indecisiveness.