There is little room for error for teams on the outskirts of the NFC playoff picture. The relative strength at the top of the NFC South and NFC West means two teams from both divisions will likely be heading to the postseason. For the 6-6 Chicago Bears and 7-5 Dallas Cowboys, that means they may need to win their respective divisions if they hope to play after Week 17.
The Cowboys are tied with the Eagles, but Dallas holds the top spot in the NFC East thanks to a 4-0 division record. The Bears, meanwhile, are effectively two games behind the Detroit Lions after losing both matchups to Detroit during the regular season to give up the division tiebreaker.
With the race so tight and very little margin of error, the two teams could be playing a quasi-elimination game on Monday night at Soldier Field.
Meet the Bears
Following back-to-back losses, the Bears likely can't afford to lose too many more games if they are going to stay in the hunt. With the wild-card teams currently having at least eight wins and the Lions already with seven wins, Chicago will likely need to win nine and possibly 10 games in order to qualify.
If the Bears are going to get back in the win column this week, they will have to do it without starting quarterback Jay Cutler. Cutler had reportedly targeted this game for his return, but was unable to practice and has been ruled out due to an ankle sprain. Josh McCown will once again start in his place.
Defensively, the Bears have been very suspect against the run, ranking last in the league in rushing yards allowed. Dallas is 27th in rushing, which could bode well for the Bears. They have defended the pass better this season and may want to force Tony Romo to beat them.
Meet the Cowboys
It hasn't always been pretty for the Cowboys this season, but they've managed to get it done recently with a pair of close wins in the last two weeks. The Cowboys, however, may need a big performance from the offense to keep pace.
Dallas has struggled mightily on defense this season and is 31st in the NFL in stopping the pass. Chicago is one of the more pass-happy teams in the league -- ranking sixth in passing yards -- and will still focus on throwing the ball even without Cutler. The Bears haven't scored as many points with McCown at quarterback, but he's put up a lot of yardage.
Local Takes: Bears
Some fans note that there were issues early in the season, before the injuries started piling up. While that may be true, you also have to consider that this team started 2013 with a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new offensive scheme, new defensive coordinator, new special teams coach, new offensive line, nearly new linebacking corps... The list goes on and on.
Local Takes: Cowboys
As much as we dispel myths about our beloved Dallas Cowboys, the "December Jinx" is solidly based on reality. Since 1997 the team has a far from impressive record of 28-43 and the only time that they have posted a winning record for the month is the 3-2 mark that was turned in during last season's campaign. The Cowboys failure to close the door on recent seasons is one reason that Jason Garrett has added another motivational sign to the Dallas meeting room. That sign reads quite simply: "FINISH, FINISH, FINISH". For the head coach, the sign applies at many different levels.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
@BradBiggs -- Bears beat writer
As rough as #Bears were on 3rd down defense earlier in season, team now ranks 14th at 39.6 pct. Not where they want to be, but improved.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) December 5, 2013
@DMN_George -- Cowboys beat writer
Numbers show Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant has made major strides since 2012 gaffe against Chicago: IRVING – A ... http://t.co/FioLvOXbeQ— Brandon George (@DMN_George) December 6, 2013
Dallas is the popular pick in this one, with a majority of bettors hoping for an NFC East showdown between the Eagles and the Cowboys. Forget the spread in this one. The Cowboys are all about the prop bets. Will Dallas finish with a third-straight 8-8 season? What about Monte Kiffin? O/U on Tony Romo interceptions?
Look at the over/under on this game, 49 points. Most people are taking the over. And why not? Chicago's defense can't stop the run. Dallas' defense is still confused about how they managed to hold the Eagles to three points. The over looks like a smart bet in this one.
The pick: Cowboys
The Bears began the week as 1-point favorites, but the game has since become a pick 'em on most sports books, according to Odds Shark.