I hate referring to any games this early in the season as a "must-win". But, realistically, today's game against the Panthers at Soldier Field is indeed a must-win for the Bears.
The Bears are coming off of two terrible losses against teams in the NFC(Saints and Packers) that will both likely be in the playoffs. So, those losses hurt for tiebreaking scenarios, both in head-to-head matchups, and conference record.
Now the 1-2 Bears face another NFC team in the 1-2 Panthers. This is a team that went 2-14 last year. It allowed them to get the #1 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, which they used to select quarterback Cam Newton.
On the surface, this seems like a much easier game than any of the previous three the Bears have played so far. And without question, it should be. But the Panthers are definitely not a team to sleep on.
The Panthers went into Arizona in the season opener and kept the game within a touchdown in Newton's NFL debut. In week two, they had a 13-0 lead on a Packers team that just dominated the Bears for all four quarters. And this past week, they finally got into the win column with a 16-10 win over the Jaguars.
The Panthers are a dangerous team, especially with Newton sure to improve(and he's already third in the NFL in passing yards) as the season goes along.
Still, this is a team the Bears need to beat at home(and they beat this team by the score of 23-6 in Carolina last year with Todd Collins starting), or else the season could quickly slip away.
A loss would put the Bears at 1-3, with the Lions to follow in week five for a Monday Night Football game in Detroit. Not only do the Lions(3-0) look terrific right now, but this will be the first game they've played on Monday night in 10 years, so Ford Field will definitely be rocking. And say the Bears lose at home against the Panthers, how are they going to have the confidence(or the offense cleaned up enough) to go into Detroit and win that game? Quite unlikely.
So, lose against the Panthers, and the Bears are looking at a 1-4 start in all likelihood. Win the game, and they're 2-2, with some good vibes headed into Detroit, followed by a favorable home game against the Vikings in week six to follow.
P.S. Hopefully Mike Martz got the memo that Matt Forte ran for 166 yards and two touchdowns over 22 carries in Carolina last year. Maybe the run-blocking will stink as it did last week(I'm not kidding when I say it's the worst run-blocking I've ever seen from the Bears), but call a fair amount of run plays in the first quarter to find that out first.