The Chicago Bears have a big, big game on Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

Let's take an overall look at where things currently stand for the Bears as they head into the game, looking at the NFC North and NFC standings in general, the Bears' remaining schedule, the Bears' health situation, statistical leaders on the Bears, and much more (including grades from the outstanding Pro Football Focus).


(Via ESPN.Com)

After the surprising events on Monday night that resulted in a Bears victory over the Green Packers at Lambeau Field, the Bears, Packers, and Lions enter week 10 in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC North.

Obviously, at least one of those teams will lose on Sunday with the Bears and Lions playing each other. And an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team will have their hands full against a Philadelphia Eagles team capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

So it goes without saying that the Bears have a huge opportunity here to create some separation between themselves and at least one team in the NFC North. And a loss would be a big hit to the Bears' divisional chances as well.

Since the Lions already beat the Bears once this season (week four in Detroit), a Lions win on Sunday would essentially give them a two-game lead over the Bears, as they'd hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

So, we're basically talking about an immediate three-game swing here for the Bears if they win this game rather than lose it: A win and they have a one-game lead over the Lions; a loss and they're one game behind the Lions and would lose the tiebreaker to the Lions.

Additionally, if the Bears win this game, they would hold a better record within the NFC North than the Lions (Lions lost to the Packers), and the divisional record is the next tiebreaker after head-to-head record to decide the division champion.

I think you get the point: This game will have major implications on the NFC North and the Bears would be in the driver's seat with a win. They'd be one game ahead of at least the Lions, and even if the Packers win on Sunday, keep in mind that the Bears beat the Packers, so the Bears currently hold that tiebreaker.

Looking at the NFC Wild Card race (another way the Bears could potentially get into the playoffs), the Bears are currently seventh (one spot outside of the playoffs) as the Carolina Panthers would get the sixth seed due to the conference-record tiebreaker (Panthers are 5-2 vs NFC teams; Bears are 3-3). The San Francisco 49ers currently have the first Wild Card spot at 6-2, and it seems like a borderline lock that the second-place team in the NFC West (the 49ers or the 8-1 Seattle Seahawks) takes one of the Wild Card spots.

Obviously the Lions and Packers are both worth keeping in mind for the Wild Card race as well. The 4-4 Arizona Cardinals and 4-5 Eagles certainly can't be counted out either. But, after the top-10 teams in the NFC, no other teams in the NFC record have a record better than 3-6, so in reality it's 10 NFC playoff contenders with six slots to be had.

Remaining Schedule

Week 10- vs Detroit Lions (5-3)

Week 11- vs Baltimore Ravens (3-5)

Week 12- at St. Louis Rams (3-6)

Week 13- at Minnesota Vikings (2-7)

Week 14- vs Dallas Cowboys (5-4); Monday Night Football

Week 15- at Cleveland Browns (4-5); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 16- at Philadelphia Eagles (4-5); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

Week 17- vs Green Bay Packers (5-3); Game could be flexed to Sunday Night

After the Lions, the Bears don't play another team with a winning record until the Monday nighter against the Cowboys at Soldier Field on December 9th. It's certainly not an intimidating schedule. But with the Bears' defensive woes, and the uncertainty at the moment of just how healthy Jay Cutler's groin is (we'll of course get a better feel about that after Sunday's game), you can't get overly confident about a single game on the schedule either.

I've already knocked weeks 11-13 out of Sunday night flex consideration (and the NFL already moved the Chiefs-Broncos to week 11 anyway... not sure if they have made any other decisions yet), and week 15 seems doubtful, unless the Browns continue to hang around a crappy AFC North. And the same thinking goes for the Eagles/NFC East in week 16, although that flex option just feels more realistic to me at the moment (with more ratings appeal than the Browns carry as well).

Then there's week 17, which as we've said weekly, makes all the flex sense in the world if the Bears and Packers are each alive in the playoff race heading into that week (and even if only one of them is, Bears-Packers will always draw viewers regardless).

Bears' Injury Report

Second-year Bears defensive end Shea McClellin had three sacks and his best game as a pro on Monday night against the Packers, but suffered a hamstring injury in practice that has him 'doubtful' for the Lions game. The severity of the injury is unknown. Rookie David Bass will start in McClellin's place at defensive end on Sunday, and defensive end Cheta Ozougwu will be active as well.

Long-snapper Patrick Mannelly, who has played more games than any Chicago Bear in franchise history, is out Sunday with a calf injury that suffered against the Packers. He's considered "week-to-week" according to Marc Trestman. The Bears signed free-agent Jeremy Cain to replace Mannelly's long-snapping duties for week 10 (and potentially longer). You may remember Cain, as he began his NFL career with the Bears in 2004 as a linebacker with primary duties on special teams. Cain played in eight games for the Bears over 2004-2005, recording 10 tackles.

And wide receiver Joe Anderson (abdomen) was placed on Injured Reserve. Anderson's primary duties were as a special teamer; he didn't have a catch on the season at wide receiver and only played 13 snaps on offense.

For some encouraging injury news, Jay Cutler will start at quarterback on Sunday (link to our write-up) after originally being expected to miss at least another game or two, due to the torn groin he suffered in the team's week seven loss vs the Washington Redskins.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Lance Briggs (shoulder) and recently signed defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (sports hernia surgery; hamstring) should be ready to play within the next few weeks. So, some much-needed help on the defensive side of the ball is on the way for the Bears.

Bears' Statistical Leaders

Note: Overall NFL ranking in parentheses; Bears players placed on Injured Reserve are not included.

Passing Stats

Jay Cutler: 146-225, 64.9 Completion % (Tied for 7th), 1,658 Yards, 7.37 Yards/Attempt, 237 Yards/Game, 12 TD, 7 INT, 10 Sacks Taken, 91.7 QB Rating, 93.38 PFF QB Rating (5th).

Josh McCown: 36-61, 59.0 Completion %, 476 Yards, 7.80 Yards/Attempt, 238 Yards/Game, 3 TD, 0 INT, 2 Sacks Taken, 100.2 QB Rating.

Rushing Stats (Running Backs Only)

Matt Forte: 140 Carries (7th), 658 Yards (6th), 4.7 Yards/Carry (7th), 82.3 Yards/Game (5th), 7 TD (Tied for 3rd), 1 Fumble, 1 Fumble Lost, 36 1st Downs (Tied for 4th), 34.8 Breakaway Percentage (8th).

Michael Bush: 31 Carries, 69 Yards, 2.2 Yards/Carry, 9.9 Yards/Game, 1 TD, 0 Fumbles, 3 1st Downs.

Receiving Stats (Top 5)

Brandon Marshall: 53 Receptions (5th), 81 Targets (Tied for 8th), 647 Yards, 12.2 Yards/Reception, 6 TD (Tied for 10th), 80.9 Yards/Game, 135 Yards After Catch, 35 1st Downs (Tied for 7th), 108.2 PFF Wide Receiver Rating (6th).

Matt Forte: 40 Receptions, 49 Targets, 316 Yards, 7.9 Yards/Reception, 0 TD, 39.5 Yards/Game, 228 Yards After Catch, 13 1st Downs.

Alshon Jeffery: 38 Receptions, 67 Targets, 621 Yards, 16.3 Yards/Reception, 3 TD, 77.6 Yards/Game, 127 Yards After Catch, 26 1st Downs.

Martellus Bennett: 36 Receptions, 56 Targets, 392 Yards, 10.9 Yards/Reception, 4 TD, 49.0 Yards/Game, 190 Yards After Catch, 23 1st Downs.

Earl Bennett: 11 Receptions, 19 Targets, 104 Yards, 9.5 Yards/Reception, 2 TD, 13.0 Yards/Game, 12 Yards After Catch, 6 1st Downs.

Tackling Stats (Top 5)

Lance Briggs: 64 Tackles (47 Solo, 17 Ast) (6th), 8 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 10th), 11.2 Run Stop Percentage (4th).

Major Wright: 61 Tackles (44 Solo, 17 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 2 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 10th).

James Anderson: 47 Tackles (39 Solo, 8 Ast), 4 Tackles For Loss, 0 Forced Fumbles.

Chris Conte: 41 Tackles (37 Solo, 4 Ast), 0 Tackles For Loss, 1 Forced Fumble.

Charles Tillman: 36 Tackles (27 Solo, 9 Ast), 3 Tackles For Loss, 3 Forced Fumbles (Tied for 3rd).

Pass-Rushing Stats (Top 5 in Sacks)

Note: QB hit and QB hurry stats are via PFF.

Shea McClellin: 3.5 Sacks, 5 Quarterback Hits, 10 Quarterback Hurries.

Lance Briggs: 2 Sacks, 3 Quarterback Hits, 1 Quarterback Hurry.

Julius Peppers: 2 Sacks, 1 Quarterback Hit, 14 Quarterback Hurries.

Corey Wootton: 2 Sacks, 2 Quarterback Hits, 19 Quarterback Hurries, 11.2 Pass Rush Productivity (1st among defensive tackles if he had enough snaps to qualify).

James Anderson: 1 Sack, 1 Quarterback Hit, 3 Quarterback Hurries.

Coverage Stats

Tim Jennings: 3 INT (Tied for 9th), 2 INT Returned For TD (Tied for 1st), 8 Pass Deflections, 60.1 QB Rating Allowed (9th among cornerbacks).

Charles Tillman: 3 INT (Tied for 9th), 3 Pass Deflections.

Major Wright: 2 INT, 1 INT Returned For TD (Tied for 2nd), 3 Pass Deflections.

Zack Bowman: 1 INT, 3 Pass Deflections.

Chris Conte: 1 INT, 2 Pass Deflections.

Special Teams Stats

Devin Hester: 25 Kick Returns (1st), 705 Yards (2nd), 28.2 AVG (5th);  10 Punt Returns, 143 Yards, 14.3 AVG (5th), 1 TD (Tied for 1st).

Robbie Gould: 14-15 On Field Goals (93.8 %; Tied for 7th), Long Field Goal Of 58 Yards (1st).

Adam Podlesh: 34 Punts, 43.4 AVG, 39.0 NET, Long Punt Of 65 Yards (Tied for 8th), 15 Punts Inside The 20 (Tied for 8th).

Bears Grades From Pro Football Focus

Before looking at some grades of individual players on the Bears, let's look at Pro Football Focus' cumulative Bears grades (combining the grades of each player that apply) in specific departments through week nine.

Note: Bears players placed on Injured Reserve are not included.

Bears Cumulative PFF Grades

Offense Overall: +28.5 (Tied for 10th)

Passing Offense: +26.8 (7th)

Rushing Offense: +6.0 (10th)

Pass Blocking: -32.9 (31st)

Run Blocking: +13.5 (4th)

Penalties (On Offense): +15.1 (8th)

Defense Overall: -67.1 (30th)

Run Defense: -49.6 (32nd)

Pass Rush: -12.5 (26th)

Pass Coverage: -13.3 (20th)

Penalties (On Defense): +8.3 (15th)

Special Teams: +5.7 (20th)

And here's some PFF grades of individual players on the Bears...

Bears Individual Player PFF Grades

Top 5 Overall Grades On Offense: 

1. WR Brandon Marshall, +16.1 (2nd)
2. OG Matt Slauson, +9.7 (Tied for 4th)
3. WR Alshon Jeffery, +8.7 (12th)
4. QB Josh McCown, +8.2 (12th)
5. HB Matt Forte, +6.4 (13th)

Bottom 5 Overall Grades On Offense:

1. OT Jordan Mills, -23.5
2. HB Michael Bush, -4.5
3. OG Kyle Long, -2.3
4. TE Martellus Bennett, -1.8
5. WR Earl Bennett, -1.1

Top 5 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. DL Corey Wootton, +2.9 (+4.8 at DT, -1.9 at DE)
2. LB Lance Briggs, +2.5 (9th among OLB)
3. CB Isaiah Frey, +1.6
4. CB Tim Jennings, +1.1
5. DE David Bass, +0.2

Bottom 5 Overall Grades On Defense:

1. S Major Wright, -21.0
2. DE Shea McClellin, -14.0
3. S Chris Conte, -9.1
4. CB Charles Tillman, -5.0
5. DT Landon Cohen, -4.6

Top 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. K Robbie Gould, +12.3
2. LB Blake Costanzo, +5.5 (Tied for 3rd in ST coverage)
3. KR Devin Hester, +4.3 (+5.1 as a returner, tied for 4th)

Bottom 3 Overall Grades On Special Teams:

1. HB Michael Bush, -3.5
2. P Adam Podlesh, -3.1
T-3. LB Jon Bostic, -3.0
T-3. TE Dante Rosario, -3.0

Our Overall Take

After the loss to the Redskins in week seven, the Bears were 4-3, and it appeared would be without their starting quarterback for at least a month (and some of us feared for the entire season). Things looked quite bleak for the Bears' playoff chances.

Well, after a bye week, the team was able to go into Lambeau Field with their backup quarterback and beat the Packers on Monday Night Football, to create a three-way tie in the NFC North. On that night, we also learned that Jay Cutler could return for the Lions game, just two weeks after suffering his groin injury, when it was originally assumed he would be out at least four weeks.

From Cutler being out at least a month and the Bears hoping to just somehow hang in the playoff race while he's out, to Cutler only missing one game and the Bears beating the Packers in Lambeau Field in his absence. Quite a turn of events for the Bears.

So now the Bears have quite an opportunity at their hands that we didn't think was possible less than a week ago. And even if the Bears lose to the Lions, things still look better for the Bears' overall playoff chances than we figured they would after Cutler's injury.

Regardless of Sunday's outcome, the Bears will enter week 11 with a winning record, their starting quarterback, and an offense improving constantly in a modern-day NFL where it's about putting points on the board. Now, it would obviously be nice if the Bears could prevent the opposition from doing the same constantly, of course, and it's hard to see things getting much better on that side of the ball anytime soon (until Lance Briggs and Jeremiah Ratliff join the defense to potentially help things, at least). But given how fortunate we should consider things right now, we'll save the freak-out about the defense for another week

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