They have a 1-6 record in the games he has missed during that time.
That has to make Cutler a prime candidate for MVP Watch, right? His presence must mean everything for the Bears. We all know quarterbacks are usually the most important players on their teams. And we've all heard about what a gunslinger Cutler can be with that strong arm and defiant nature.
"MVP! MVP! MVP!"
Now comes the hard part: proving Cutler is indeed such a key player for the Bears.
Let's take a closer look at the Bears' 1-6 record without him.
That record includes a defeat at San Francisco this season. Cutler wasn't going to stop Aldon Smith from getting 5.5 sacks. He wasn't going to stop Colin Kaepernick from lighting up the Bears' defense. He wasn't going to win a game the Bears lost 32-7 without him.
Cutler missed the final six games last season, five of them losses. Running back Matt Forte missed the final three-plus games. Having Cutler available probably would have enabled the Bears to finish better, but Chicago wasn't going to win at its usual clip without Forte. Lots of starting quarterbacks improve their teams' chances for winning relative to what a backup would provide. That doesn't make them MVP candidates.
The one game Chicago won without Cutler during the 1-6 stretch in question came during Week 17 last season, against Minnesota. The Bears picked off three passes from Joe Webb and Christian Ponder, returning one for a touchdown.
In 2010, the Bears won the lone game Cutler missed, defeating a horrendous Carolina team on its way to winning the Cam Newton sweepstakes. Bears backup Todd Collins threw four picks in that game. Forte carried 22 times for 166 yards. The Bears won 23-6.
Doesn't exactly enhance those MVP credentials for Cutler, does it?
Neither do the stats.
Cutler ranks 20th in Total QBR at 50.4 this season; 50 is average. Tom Brady is in the low 80s. Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks usually score in the mid-60s or higher. Cutler ranks a distant third among NFC North quarterbacks by this measure. He isn't all that far ahead of Minnesota's Christian Ponder (47.7).
Cutler ranks 26th in NFL passer rating at 81.1, which is below the 86.9 figure covering every pass thrown in the league this season. He has 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
But Cutler comes through in the clutch, right? Yes and no.
Cutler has a 92.9 QBR score (out of 100) on 16 fourth-quarter plays when the score was within eight points. That ranks second to MVP Watch leader Peyton Manning and right ahead of St. Louis' Sam Bradford. That's fine, but all 16 of those plays were against the Rams and Panthers. Cutler completed 10 of 14 passes with no touchdowns. He also rushed twice for 20 yards in those situations.
To further explore the clutch theory, I filtered ESPN's charting database for higher-leverage situations, defined as those when play results have above-average impact on win probability.
It's a more complicated way to measure what the vernacular calls clutch situations, but the math is sound. Ten years of charting information says teams are either more or less likely to win based on the results for each play. Some situations are more pivotal than others.
Cutler's QBR score falls to 44.4 with two touchdowns, five picks and 14 sacks in higher-leverage situations, meaning situations when the stakes were above average. That compares to a 63.3 QBR score with four touchdowns, one pick and nine sacks in lower-leverage situations.
Overall, Cutler has three touchdowns, six picks and a 47.0 QBR score in one-score games, defined as those when the margin is within eight points.
Perhaps someone else can build the MVP case for Cutler. I'd like to hear it.
Quarterback | Denver Broncos ... Next Game: 12/2 vs. TB ... Last Poll: 1
Manning needs one victory to join Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks with 150 victories as a starter. He has thrown quickly enough or been protected well enough to be under duress on a league-low 14.5 percent of his drop backs. He now faces a Tampa Bay defense that has put opposing quarterbacks under duress a league-low 16.5 percent of the time. That gives Manning a good chance to pad his MVP credentials, it would seem.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 12/2 at MIA ... Last Poll: 3
Brady leads the NFL in Total QBR (81.6 out of 100) and has shiny traditional stats as part of the equation: 24 touchdown passes, three interceptions, three rushing touchdowns and seven rushing first downs despite netting only 16 yards on his 15 rushing attempts. Upcoming games against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers will provide a stiffer test. Brady has played only two of the top defenses in passer rating allowed. He had three touchdowns, three picks and an 0-2 record in those games.
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 12/2 vs. MIN ... Last Poll: 2
Rodgers is coming off a rough game against the New York Giants, one of only two all season in which he failed to toss more than one touchdown pass. He is in the third spot this week because he's Aaron Rodgers and we know with a high degree of certainty he'll play better in the near future.
Running Back | Minnesota Vikings ... Next Game: 12/2 at GB... Last Poll: 4
The Vikings dropped to 6-5 with their 28-10 loss to the Bears. Peterson still topped 100 yards rushing to give him 1,236 for the season, most in the NFL by 172 yards. He has gained more yards after contact (league-leading 595) than all but 21 running backs have gained overall. That includes Atlanta's Michael Turner, who has 594 yards rushing overall.
Defensive End | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 12/2 at TEN ... Last Poll: 6
The three sacks Watt added against Detroit during the Texans' overtime win on Thanksgiving gave him 14.5 for the season. Watt also has 13 passes defensed and 11.5 tackles for loss, which are separate from sacks. Fans are taking note. They've given Watt more than 320,000 Pro Bowl votes to this point, nearly 100,000 more than any other defensive lineman from the AFC.
Running Back | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 12/2 at TEN ... Last Poll: NR
This feels a little high for Foster after he went unranked last week. But with another 100-yard game, Foster has overtaken Seattle's Marshawn Lynch for the No. 2 spot in rushing yards. He has a league-leading 12 rushing touchdowns. His per-carry average has climbed to 4.0. His team has a 10-1 record. The reality, however, is that Watt has a better chance than Foster, at least this season.
Quarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 11/29 vs. NO ... Last Poll: NR
Ryan would rank second to Brady and over Manning in Total QBR if only we could expunge from his record that five-interception debacle against Arizona in Week 11. Ryan still ranks third. He has posted an 80-plus QBR score in four of his past five games, matching Brady for most in the NFL over that span. He'll have a chance to improve his credentials in what figures to be another shootout against the Saints.
Quarterback | Washington Redskins ... Next Game: 12/3 vs. NYG ... Last Poll: NR
Griffin is the only player on the list whose team has a losing record. He has been gaining ground in recent weeks and now ranks fifth in Total QBR (72.1) and fourth in NFL passer rating (104.6) for the season. He has 2,504 yards passing, 642 rushing and 22 total touchdowns with only six turnovers (the Redskins have recovered seven of his nine fumbles this season).
Running Back | Seattle Seahawks ... Next Game: 12/2 at CHI ... Last Poll: 5
The Seahawks had a hard time getting Lynch established against Miami and that played a leading role in the team's inability to drive for the go-ahead field goal late in the game. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson's continuing emergence should give this run-oriented team greater flexibility. Will Lynch get going against the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 13? The Dolphins ended his streak of four consecutive 100-yard games.
Linebacker | Denver Broncos ... Next Game: 12/2 vs. TB ... Last Poll: 9
I went back and forth between Miller and the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith for this 10th spot. Smith leads the NFL in sacks with 16.5. Miller ranks close behind with 14. Miller also has 12 tackles for loss. Smith has two. Defenses ask different things from different players, so such a disparity isn't always telling. It's no knock on Smith if Miller is the slightly better player overall. Both are just getting started.