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Bears cough away chance to clinch NFC North, adding more drama to Week 17

LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy shredded the Chicago defense for 133 yards and two touchdowns for the Eagles. (Matt Rourke/AP)

If this is how the Eagles play with almost nothing on the line, then the Dallas Cowboys might want to sound the warning sirens ahead of Week 17.

And if this is how the Bears play with their whole season there for the taking, well ... the NFC North might want to consider deciding its champion with a coin flip.

Thanks to separate tank jobs of varying degrees by Detroit and Green Bay earlier Sunday, Chicago had a chance to clinch the division title with a win at Philadelphia. Instead, the Bears fell behind 21-0 in the blink of an eye, later took a safety just for emphasis and bombed their way to a humiliating 54-11 loss that ensured they'll have to fight for their playoff lives next week, in a winner-take-all game with the Packers.

"We'll throw this tape in the trash can," Bears coach Marc Trestman said.

The Eagles' win means that they will be the No. 3 seed in the playoffs if they wrap up the NFC East. They will have their fate decided on the season's final weekend, too -- a scenario they were well aware of before taking the field on Sunday night. Rather than rest his players in anticipation of a Week 17 showdown in Dallas, though, Eagles coach Chip Kelly turned his team loose in hopes of restoring some confidence after an 18-point loss at Minnesota.

He found it and then some, thanks to one of the season's most dominating wire-to-wire displays.

"We knew the situation at hand, Dallas won, we really were playing just for a seed," said Philadelphia linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who had two sacks and a forced fumble. "But we didn't give up. We came out here, we played with our hearts."

BANKS: Cowboys get a chance at redemption after consistent failures

Still, in spite of Philadelphia's 43-point smackdown of Chicago, either team could win up in the playoffs. Or both. Or neither.

Such is life in what has been an utterly wild and unpredictable NFL season.

The Bears' good fortune at this point is that someone, per the NFL's rules, has to win the NFC North. Believe me, I double-checked as the clock ticked into hour three of Chicago's Week 16 nap. Trestman's team gaffed away opportunity No. 1 to cement a division title, but gets a redo at home against its arch-rival.

Whether or not Chicago deserves that shot is relative. In the grand scheme of the NFC playoff race, where an Arizona team would miss out at 10-6 and could miss out at 11-5. But within the confines of their division, even at a flawed 8-7, the Bears have done just enough to stay atop the leaderboard with one week left.

"We said in April that if we had an opportunity to go to the playoffs and do that by winning the last game, we'd be in," Trestman said. "And that's where we are.

Look, let's call it like we see it: The NFC North is a total mess.

The Lions, actually 4-1 against their divisional foes, once had an apparent stranglehold on things. They imploded, as they are wont to do, capped off by back-to-back crushing home losses to Baltimore and the New York Giants.

The Packers have not been the same since Aaron Rodgers' collarbone injury, a fact hammered home again Sunday as Matt Flynn committed two costly turnovers in a loss to Pittsburgh.

Chicago, almost by accident, rose to the top of the heap. The run defense has been in shambles all season and there's still the ongoing Jay Cutler-vs.-Josh McCown debate, but a win at Philadelphia would have served an emphatic statement that this team deserved the division.

Cutler and co. served up strong evidence to the contrary.

What's next? Who knows.

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You don't have to go too far back into the annals to find that 48-30 Philadelphia loss in Dallas. Nor do you have to search high and low to find back-to-back Chicago victories, including a convincing 45-28 triumph over Dallas.

The NFL has become more of a week-to-week proposition than ever. The Eagles may not be quite as sharp in Dallas next Sunday as they were in front of their ravenous home fans this week.

And the Bears have to hope that they cannot possibly be as bad. Even in the disappointing, underachieving NFC North, another half-hearted effort probably will not cut it.

"This season's full of disappointments, that's part of the adversity of the season," Trestman said. "We're not happy, we're extremely disappointed.

"But that's gotta go away. We've got to reenergize ourselves, we've got a very important game on Sunday."

 

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