LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears head into their final regular-season game with a shot at an opening-round bye and some extra rest for their first playoff appearance in eight years.
Consider those sweet incentives for the NFC North champions.
A victory at Minnesota combined with a loss by the Los Angeles Rams to the San Francisco 49ers would give the Bears the second seed in the conference and a bye.
"You have to be realistic in some of this," Coach Matt Nagy said Monday.
Chicago and Los Angeles kick off at the same time. And if it becomes clear the Bears have little shot at catching the Rams, Nagy figures to ease up and start pulling his best players.
But for now, he's all-in.
"We're doing everything we possibly can to win," Nagy said. "And then I think it's one of those deals where as you go, you gotta just kind of get a feel for your own game. And you gotta get a feel of what's going on in that game because ... that other game does matter with the Rams."
It's been a long time since games this late in the season mattered for the Bears (11-4).
They had a chance to make the playoffs in 2013 — their first year under Marc Trestman — only to miss out at 8-8 after faltering down the stretch. They got shredded at Philadelphia 54-11 in Week 16 and closed with a loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a finale for the division championship at Soldier Field.
The Bears fired Trestman after finishing last in the NFC North at 5-11 the following year. They went 14-34 the next three seasons under John Fox and never escaped the bottom of the division.
But a major overhaul in the offseason that included the hiring of Nagy and trade for Khalil Mack spurred a worst-to-first leap. They're headed to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 team won the division on the way to the NFC title game.
"Even though we have the playoffs locked up already, we want to finish strong and that's our mindset," quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "Inside the locker room, just continue to take every game and every opportunity to go out there and play together and take care of business."
The Bears are the No. 3 seed in the NFC, a game behind the Rams. But they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after shutting down Jared Goff and Los Angeles' high-powered offense in a 15-6 victory at Soldier Field on Dec. 9.
If they don't get the second seed, they could wind up playing Minnesota in back-to-back weeks. The Vikings are sixth in the NFC and fighting to hang onto a playoff spot. But Nagy insisted the possibility of facing them the following week won't impact his approach.
That's because the Bears have something at stake.
"It'd be different if you couldn't move at all," Nagy said. "But the fact that you're going here to win this game and do everything you can based on where we're at now as we stand in this situation, you have to go about it that way. There'll be some things maybe here or there that we'll take a look at. But we're just trying to keep this as normal as we possibly can, knowing that we're going to (try to) win."
The Bears are rolling with eight wins in nine games, surviving a fight and a late fumble to beat San Francisco 14-9 on Sunday.
Danny Trevathan made a key interception. A dominant defense kept the 49ers out of the end zone, and Nagy became the Bears' first rookie coach to win 11 games.
"We're growing, we're still growing and we're also peaking," Trevathan said.
Notes: Nagy said he talked on the flight home with receivers Anthony Miller and Josh Bellamy, who were ejected for fighting after a sliding Trubisky was hit late by San Francisco's Marcell Harris. "I'm not condoning what they did," he said. But he acknowledged the play bothered the Bears, particularly since Trubisky missed two games with a shoulder injury after Minnesota's Harrison Smith hit him as the quarterback was sliding. "It's a violent game," Nagy said. "And when you see your boy, teammate, friend or family member getting hit like that, especially weeks ago when something similar happened like that (happened), it's natural," Nagy said. "I don't care what anybody says, it's natural to protect your guy, and that's what they did." ... Nagy is "cautiously optimistic" G Kyle Long (right foot) returns this week. The three-time Pro Bowl lineman suffered a tendon injury in Chicago's win over the New York Jets on Oct. 28. ... Nagy said the Bears will monitor WR Allen Robinson, who hurt his ribs making a diving 43-yard catch in the first quarter Sunday but returned to the game.