The Bears earned their fifth consecutive victory Sunday, defeating the San Diego Chargers 31-20 at Soldier Field.
However, the win came at a heavy price as quarterback Jay Cutler broke his right thumb and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
Reports indicate Cutler suffered the injury when he was blocked by San Diego linebacker Donald Butler during an interception return by the Chargers' Antoine Cason.
Cutler finished the game, during which he completed 18 of 31 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
Apparently, Cutler will not be placed on injured reserve, leaving open the possibility he could return in time for the playoffs. Of course, the postseason seems less likely now that backup Caleb Hanie will have to take over the team indefinitely.
The Bears sit at 7-3 in the competitive NFC North and would qualify for the playoffs as a wild card if the season ended today.
One bit of comfort for Bears' fans: Only two of Chicago's six remaining games are against winning teams. The Bears travel to Oakland (6-4) next week and play at Green Bay (10-0) on Christmas Day. Perhaps their strong defense and special teams will be enough to beat weaker foes like Kansas City (4-5), Denver (5-5), Seattle (4-6) and Minnesota (2-8).
Taking a look around the NFC, there are eight teams in contention for the six playoff spots. The Packers, San Francisco (9-1), New Orleans (7-3) and the New York Giants (6-3) are leading their respective divisions. Then, you've got Detroit and the Bears both at 7-3 and leading the wild-card race.
Dallas and Atlanta, both 6-4, are the two teams that could realistically catch the Bears and knock them out of the postseason. Fortunately, Chicago beat Atlanta head-to-head and holds the tiebreaker. The Bears do not play the Cowboys. If you look at the records against NFC foes, the Bears are 6-3 while Dallas is 5-2. It's a neck-and-neck race for the tiebreaker there.
The Bears might get in at 10-6 if they win three of their remaining six. Might. A 4-2 finish and an 11-5 record would make things much more comfortable. The question is whether Hanie, who has never started an NFL game, can guide the Bears to four wins over the final six weeks.