With quarterback Jay Cutler out for the season with a thumb injury, the Bears have to claw their way into the playoffs.  

But, now that running back Matt Forte will possibly be out two to six weeks with a left knee injury, the Chicago Bears are going to have to more than just claw their way in-they almost have to maul their way in, just for a wild card berth.

Right now the Bears sit at 7-5, and if the season ended today, they would be the fifth seed in the NFC playoff bracket. However, there are still four games left. Matt Forte has arguably been the most consistent player on offense, and even the team, allowing the Bears to remain in the hunt in a division where the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions are winning.

Now

Now that running back Matt Forte will possibly be out two to six weeks with a left knee injury, the Chicago Bears are going to have to more than just claw their way into the playoffs--they almost have to maul their way in, just for a wild card berth. (Reuters/Jeff Haynes)

According to reports, Bears coach Lovie Smith expects Forte to return this season from a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, despite reports saying he could be sidelined for the rest of the season and a couple of weeks after, if the Bears do end up making the playoffs. On Monday, Forte was evaluated and Smith said the back looked pretty good, but he didn't put a timetable on his return.

As far as when, I'll just say we're still evaluating him, Smith said to reporters. He looked pretty good this morning, but it is an MCL. He didn't finish the game. So there is concern.

Forte was injured in the first quarter of Sunday's 10-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when linebacker Derrick Johnson hit Forte squarely in the knee to stop him for no gain after a handoff from Caleb Hanie, who replaced Cutler after he went down. Forte left the game and didn't return.

The good news for Forte and the Bears is that an MRI on Monday confirmed the sprained MCL and there was no sign of ligament damage to the ACL, according to a league source who spoke to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Smith still remains confident in his team, despite Forte's injury.

Going into the fourth quarter of the season, we should be in pretty good shape, Smith said. Can't tell you exactly when (he'll be back), whether it's this week, next week or whatever. But hopefully we'll get him back soon.

The bad news for Forte is that this injury may cause his stock for a new contract extension to plummet. Forte, whose salary this year is about $550,000, has ran this season for 997 yards on 203 carries and three touchdowns. He has been lobbying for a new contract. Smith said the contract situation would not affect his pace of rehab.

No, I don't think that will come into play, Smith said. I think all players in the NFL will try to do whatever they can to help their team win. We will not play a player that's injured. Once you have a healthy player, I think they're all ready to go. And I know that's the case with Matt Forte. He can't wait to get back out on the football field to help his team win.

With Forte gone alongside Cutler, rumors circulated that the Bears were interested in signing recently released Donovan McNabb. But, Smith has stood by Hanie despite his struggles. He also dismissed a report that offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be gone after the season.