The Chicago Bears went into their bye week on a high with three straight wins, including two decisive wins in their past two games.
History shows the Bears should be in line for a good performance when they get back at it against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. Lovie Smith's Bears have won eight of 10 MNF games during his tenure, and they are 5-3 after a bye during that span.
But will they be in for a letdown on national television against a Detroit Lions team coming off an emotional road overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday? Our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: Coming off the bye week, the Bears could be in for a letdown against the Lions on Monday Night Football.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction: A letdown against the Lions? Not a chance. Maybe a letdown would be possible if the Bears were scheduled to play a bad team outside of their division, but not Detroit. Make no mistake about it, the Bears don't like the Lions. It's personal. From Ndamakung Suh smashing Jay Cutler in the back with a forearm in 2010, to Suh ripping off Cutler's helmet last year before the bench-clearing brawl that started because Matthew Stafford delivered a cheap shot to D.J. Moore, there is absolutely no love lost between the Bears or Lions. That is why a letdown is impossible. The Bears could lose the game, but it won't be because they failed to show up on Monday night.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. That's not to say it's going to happen, but the potential definitely exists with this team coming off a long layoff just when it seemed things were rolling on both sides of the ball during a 41-3 demolition of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 7. History, however, says the Bears handle business on Monday night. Under Lovie Smith, the Bears have won five of their last six after a week off. Besides that, the team hasn't lost to the Lions at home since 2007. It's also worth factoring in the club's 8-2 record on Monday Night Football under Smith. So, yes, it's a fact there's a potential for a letdown against the Lions. But I really don't see that happening.
Scott Powers: Fiction. The Bears may not roll as they have in recent weeks, but that will have more to do with the Lions. Detroit isn't an awful team. At 2-3, the Lions have won two games by no more than four points and haven't lost by more than eight points. If the Bears don't show up, they could very well lose. But I don't anticipate that happening. Smith's teams have normally been prepared follow their bye. The Bears have won five of the last six years following their bye week.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears, as they should be, are led by the defense, emotionally and on the field. This is a group that knows how to prepare and play after a week off, so there's little reason to worry about over-confidence or anything like that. As if Smith would let his team get puffy-chested. Since Smith took over, the Bears are 5-3 after a bye with two losses coming in his first two seasons. Chicago has won five of six on Monday Night football. In the last two seasons, the Bears have won after a bye, knocking off Philadelphia and Buffalo, both on the road. I think the week off can only help the offense, which took a positive step forward in Jacksonville.
Fact or Fiction: Monday will be Brian Urlacher's breakout game.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Urlacher will be better following the bye week, but he still might need several more weeks until he reaches his maximum playing level for this season. What Bears fans should really want is to see Urlacher have his breakout game when the team hosts the Green Bay Packers on Dec. 16. The Lions game is important, don't get me wrong, but I'm convinced the road to the NFC North title still goes through Green Bay. If Urlacher can be as close to full strength as possible for that game, then the Bears have a chance to avenge their Week 2 loss.
Michael C. Wright: Fact.
Urlacher vowed recently to return to elite form, and I'll definitely not be the one to count him out. I'd be skeptical if Urlacher hadn't shown gradual improvement in every game through the first five. But he's gotten better. I think the week off combined with the natural healing/recovery process, Urlacher's sheer will, and the adrenaline of playing in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football against a division rival will push the linebacker to his best outing of the 2012 campaign.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I'm not sure how many breakout games we'll see from Urlacher the rest of his career. He may occasionally have a great game, but it shouldn't be expected every week. His knee just isn't ever going to be the same, and he's admitted that. There is some room for improvement with it, and I think you'll start to see some better performances. I'm not sure what that adds up to Monday, but steady progress is what you're looking for weekly.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Breakout is too strong a word. I don't know why we think Urlacher is going to snap back and become the 54 of old. The week off should be good for his first step, not to mention all the ones that follow during the course of the game. It's a good thing the defense doesn't really rely on Urlacher's athleticism any more. As long as he makes the plays in his neighborhood and his knee doesn't give out on him, let's set the bar a little lower for the franchise linebacker and hope he stays on course for a full season.
Fact or Fiction: Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall is a more dynamic duo than Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. An argument can be made that Johnson is a better all-around receiver than Marshall. But as far quarterback-receiver combinations, Cutler and Marshall had greater success when they were together in Denver and during their first five games in Chicago than Stafford and Johnson in Detroit. The receivers numbers in 2012 are very similar, with Johnson holding a slight edge in yards while Marshall has scored two more touchdowns. But Marshall twice went over the 100-reception mark with Cutler in Denver (2007-2008). Johnson has only had one great year with Stafford (2011) due to the quarterback's injuries that forced him to miss six games in 2009 and 13 games in 2010. Cutler has been doing it better for a longer period of time which gives the edge to the Bears in this debate.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. This is a tough one to answer, so can I just say “tie”? Seriously, had this question been posed two weeks ago, my answer would probably be different.
Cutler-Marshall has produced more touchdowns (3) than Stafford-Johnson, but the latter has more yardage, and their performance Sunday against the Eagles tips the balance in Detroit's favor. Held to one catch the majority of Sunday's overtime win at Philadelphia, Johnson took over the game and finished with 135 yards.
Johnson also made an impressive catch in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. So as good as Cutler and Marshall have been together this season, I haven't yet seen them take over a game late in a crucial situation. Do I think they've got the talent to do it?
Absolutely. But based on recent history I'm going with Stafford and Johnson. Cutler and Marshall are basically reuniting in a new system that is still experiencing some growing pains.
Scott Powers: Fiction. I'm indifferent about Cutler and Stafford. Both are capable, but neither has been consistently great throughout their careers. We're seeing that same trend this season. Where the difference is between the two combos is at wide receiver. As good as Marshall is, I believe Johnson is the best wide receiver in the game. His touchdowns have dropped drastically so far this season, but he's still hauling in 100-plus yards a game and still makes some incredible catches.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Maybe by the end of the season this will be true, but as of now, I'll roll with Stafford and Johnson. Stafford is more accurate of a passer than Cutler and Johnson has less drops. I know the question is about dynamism, not consistency, but anyone throwing to Johnson looks pretty dynamic. As a Bear, Marshall has virtually no peers, but find me a general manager who would take him over Johnson, past personal problems aside. The only qualm here is Stafford needs to show he can make it through a season. He started all 16 last year and all five this season.
Fact or Fiction: The NFC North title will ultimately come down to the Bears and Packers.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Green Bay reminded the NFL they are for real when they demolished the Houston Texans on the road last Sunday night. As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Packers are dangerous. The Bears also look like they're the real deal, and although the schedule gets tougher in the middle of the season, they should be in contention at the end. I'm just not sold on the staying power of the Vikings, and the Lions don't inspire much confidence even after their win at Philadelphia.
Michael C. Wright: Fact. Doesn't that always seem to be the case? Just when everyone was ready to bury the Packers, they put on a dominant performance in a smackdown of an undefeated Texans team that let everyone know the Packers are still a force. The good thing for the Bears is they've built a small lead on the Packers, and the next time the teams face one another, it will be at Soldier Field. If the Bears take care of business in that Dec. 16 matchup, they could actually be wrapping up a division title. So, yes, ultimately, the NFC North title -- regardless of the noise made recently by the Minnesota Vikings -- will come down to the Bears and Packers. It seems everyone else right now is playing for third and fourth place.
Scott Powers: Fiction. At this point, I still could see any of the four NFC North teams make a run at it. The Bears' schedule picks up with tougher competition. The Packers have been inconsistent, but they looked great against the Texans. The Vikings look for real, but they play the Bears and Packers four times in the final six weeks. The Lions have been in every game, but three of their final four games are against the Packers, Falcons and Bears. The Bears do have the advantage now, but I'm still now ready to hand them the divisional title.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Before the season I liked the Lions as a spoiler, but now I'm not so sure, for obvious reasons. The Packers showed Monday why they aren't dead yet. Most people believed they would bounce back, but in the NFL you never know when a season veers from expectations. But both teams have the requisite foundations to reach the Super Bowl and all things remaining equal, the Bears' game against Green Bay on Dec. 16 will likely decide the division.