CHICAGO – The Bears-Patriots match-up on Sunday was supposed to be a big game.

Still is, but not nearly as big as it looked only a week or two ago.

It’s bigger for the Patriots than it is for the Bears, but it’s crucial for neither unless bragging rights count.

And they might.

But for the Bears, it could work out just as well if they lose. Here are 10 reasons:

1. It would feed into the well-earned AFC notion of superiority. Face it, the NFC looks awful again compared to the AFC, and even though the Bears don’t necessarily deserve to be painted with the same brush, they get splattered with the taint of conference inferiority. That’s OK. It eventually could work in the Bears’ favor. More on this later.

2. Why win the NFC North title away from home? Save it for later, maybe next week against Minnesota at Soldier Field. The home fans deserve to celebrate.

3. The Bears have no reason to wrap up the NFC home-field advantage early. If coach Lovie Smith can give his regulars December off, they might lose their enthusiasm for football by January. You saw what happened last year when he gave them one game off.

4. An AFC loss can’t hurt the Bears’ quest for NFC dominance or affect the playoffs in any way. The NFC is so bad the Bears still would have at least a two-game lead on everybody else if they lost.

5. The Bears are so far ahead in the NFC that they run the same risk mentioned in Reason No. 1. While they indeed might be superior to every other NFC team, they also need to recognize the crumbling of the competition could be as big a reason as the Bears’ prowess. It seems every time NFC teams have chances to step up, they come up short. The Giants, Saints, Falcons, Eagles, Seahawks, Packers and Vikings all lost last week, leaving only the Cowboys and Panthers as legitimate threats to the Bears. A loss can be good for humility.

6 Two weeks ago it looked like the Bears would have to beat the Patriots to prove themselves worthy of the hype. But they already have won two of their three games on what was supposed to be a definitive road test. They already have passed the test. They’re good. They don’t need to explain or prove anything.

7 The Patriots are the last winning team on the Bears’ schedule. The Vikings, Rams, Bucs, Lions and Packers all have losing records. If the Bears beat the Patriots, they’re going to think they can toss their helmets onto the field for the next five weeks and finish an easy 15-1. You know one of those teams would rise up and beat them, and it would be embarrassing. Might even shake their confidence.

8 If they lose to the Patriots, it wouldn’t be embarrassing at all. It would be expected by oddsmakers. Then it would be easier for Smith to get his players’ attention for the rest of the season.

9 Because the Bears won’t play another winning team the rest of the season, they would go into the playoffs saddled with lingering doubt about whether they really do have the stuff to get to the Super Bowl. After all, don’t forget they started this season with the advantage of playing the absolute easiest schedule in the league based on last season’s records. They would enter the playoffs with something more to prove, which gets back to Reason No. 1.

10 The Bears need to play along with the idea that the NFC is inferior. As soon as the Patriots overwhelmed the Packers 35-0 last week, they looked at their recent 31-7 victory in Minnesota and concluded the NFC stands for No Further Chance.

Allowing the Patriots to continue this pattern of thinking could be quite beneficial in case of a rematch, which of course could happen only in the Super Bowl.

The underdog role is rarely a bad thing in a Super Bowl. Underdogs love to feed off the challenge of disrespect. In the case of the Patriots, injured safety Rodney Harrison usually manages to twist even the favorite’s role into some form of disrespect, so there’s no reason to allow the Patriots the advantage of losing to the Bears in a relatively meaningless November game.

This is about the playoffs now. Nothing else matters. The rest of the year is nothing more than temporary entertainment. The only lasting memory of this season will be what happens in January.

If the Bears lose to the Patriots, it would have a spillover effect. The four AFC division leaders already have a 9-2 record against NFC teams, and the AFC leads overall 29-20. Every other good AFC team-the Colts, Chargers, Ravens, Broncos, Chiefs and Jaguars, all of them potential Super Bowl teams-would figure the entire NFC is unworthy of a Super Bowl appearance.

Then the Bears could have the disrespect card all for themselves. It is an amazingly powerful tool, but football is an emotional game.

It’s hard to grasp on the day after Thanksgiving, but the way the season is falling for the Bears, it would be a big disappointment if they didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.

They would only represent the NFC, but they need the AFC to believe they are representative of the NFC.

Lovie Smith did not approve of this message, by the way, but it’s never too early to start the mind games.

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