42F Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Although their chances of making the playoffs are slim, the Seattle Seahawks have at least played their way into the postseason picture.
The Chicago Bears are in better position to make the playoffs, but little suggests they'll get in after what transpired last weekend.
In their third meeting at Soldier Field in 14 months, the Seahawks look to win for the fifth time in six games and keep their playoff hopes alive Sunday against a scuffling Bears team looking to regroup following a stunning loss - its third in a row.
Seattle (6-7) trails Detroit and Atlanta by two games for the NFC's two wild-card spots, and is also one game behind Dallas and Chicago (7-6). The Falcons and Cowboys own tiebreakers over the Seahawks due to head-to-head victories, so Seattle must win out and have several other things go its way to make the playoffs.
Still, the Seahawks are at least in the conversation, which is impressive considering it started 2-6.
"We have some young talent," quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said after Monday's 30-13 win over St. Louis. "We have guys that are buying into what our coaches are telling us and the sky's the limit. As long as we can stay healthy, stay focused and just keep working hard, I think we'll be fine."
The Bears likely aren't feeling as confident.
Chicago has lost all three games since Jay Cutler 's thumb injury and is coming off one of its most painful losses in years. After keeping Tim Tebow and the Denver offense in check for much of last Sunday's game, the Bears somehow squandered a 10-point lead with just over two minutes remaining, and suffered a 13-10 overtime loss.
"Just stunned, I would say would be the best word to put it," tight end Matt Spaeth said. "Nobody thought we would have lost that game the way we did."
Two late blunders by running back Marion Barber sealed Chicago's fate.
With the Bears leading by three and less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Barber, filling in for star Matt Forte (knee), inexplicably went out of bounds stopping the clock. It gave the Broncos extra time and they moved in for a game-tying field goal. Then in overtime, Barber, who finished with 108 yards on 27 carries, fumbled at the Denver 33.
"Definitely one of the toughest ones I've had to deal with, we've had to deal with," coach Lovie Smith said. "We normally celebrate when we have a game in control like that late in the game. We haven't been in this position very often, if at all. We don't like it, but it's how we respond and we will respond."
For the Bears to put this debacle behind them, they must beat a Seattle team that comes to Soldier Field looking to exact some revenge from last season's 35-24 loss in a division playoff game.
The Seahawks, who won in Chicago 23-20 last October, have found new life this season behind the strong running of Marshawn Lynch .
Since Week 9, Lynch has rushed for an NFL-best 706 yards - 133 yards ahead of Tennessee's Chris Johnson . Lynch has scored a touchdown in nine straight games and is 31 yards shy of his third 1,000-yard season, and first since 2008.
"I think it's just a thing that we're growing," he said. "We've got a lot of young guys up front and I just think that we're coming together."
He'll be facing a Chicago defense that is allowing an average of 103.3 yards during its three-game skid after yielding 66.8 in winning its previous five.
Like Lynch, Jackson has also been playing better in recent weeks. He threw for 224 yards and a score Monday, and has a TD pass in four straight games.
The Bears, who have scored only 13 points in their last two contests, have not received similar production from their quarterback.
Caleb Hanie hasn't thrown a TD pass in his last two games, but showed some improvement last week. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 115 yards and didn't throw an interception after tossing three in each of his first two starts.
Hanie will likely again have the difficult challenge of leading the Bears without Forte, who is still probably a week away from returning.
Although Chicago is sputtering offensively, Smith is trying to stay optimistic.
"At 7-6 we're on the outside looking in. You lose three in a row this time of year, you are normally not in a great position," he said. "But we are in position still. And that's what we have to keep in mind. We have to get a win. The Seattle game was an important game, no matter what happened (last Sunday)."