1. What been the biggest difference between the Bears team that started the season 7-1 and the team that's lost five of their last seven?
Scoring. In the first five games, the defense was rolling in terms of generating turnovers. They even had five touchdowns during the 7-1 start. But since then, they've scored just twice, both coming last Sunday in a 28-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Bears woeful offense just hasn't gotten it done, and they've averaged just 11.4 points in their five losses. That's not gonna cut it, especially for a playoff caliber team.
2. What would a loss Sunday do to how fans in Chicago perceive quarterback Jay Cutler, especially if he doesn't play well?
Fair point and fair question. Jay Cutler has had an off season, for sure. And despite the Bears porous offensive line, Cutler should have taken a step forward because the Bears did bring in his buddy Brandon Marshall, who had a Pro Bowl season. It's not clear why Cutler has been off, especially the last few weeks, when the pass protection can't be an excuse.
In addition, the Bears have struggled to spread the ball around, even though Earl Bennett - who Cutler played with at Vanderbilt - also is still on the roster. But the Bears are counting on him to play well since he generally has against the Lions.
3. The Bears held
First off, Charles Tillman told me he watched the Lions game against the Falcons, and he was very happy that Calvin broke Jerry Rice's record. Tillman told me of Johnson, "He is, hands down, the best receiver. It was great to see him break that record last week. I was happy for him. It was good for our sport. Records are made to be broken."
With that said, though, Tillman said he doesn't want Johnson to top 2,000 yards on him. His goal against Calvin is to hold him under 100 yards.
"I just have to worry about my game," he said. "I can’t worry about him breaking records or anything."
4. How much pressure is on head coach Lovie Smith and Bears to win Sunday?
I have no idea what new GM Phil Emery is thinking. He's not conducted many interviews this season. But my sense is he does have the authority to make any decision he chooses on Smith's future.
The only condition coming into the season was that Smith was safe for 2012. A winning record isn't enough in Chicago. And it cannot be ignored that the Bears started 7-1, the 38th team since 1990 to do that.
Guess what? If the Bears miss the postseason, they'll just be the second to miss the playoffs after starting 7-1, joining the 1996 Washington Redskins (9-7). Such an epic collapse would be tough to just blow off. Smith is under contract through 2013 and it wouldn't seem out of the realm of possibilities for the Bears to have him honor his contract, to buy them more time to make a decision.
Smith has largely survived this long because the players have always had his back, and he's fielded a championship caliber defense several times. But, on the flip side, he's struggled to find a good offensive coordinator, and he's struggled to consistently win the big games. How he and his players respond against the Lions will be telling.
5. Where is running back Matt Forte at in his recovery from an ankle injury and can he be a difference maker for the Bears this week?
Matt Forte told me last Sunday there was no way he could see himself missing the finale. He's nine yards short of 1,000, and he wants to be on the field for a key game against the Lions. Besides, Forte has played well against the Lions. He averages 86 yards per game against them but, more importantly, a healthy 4.93 yards per carry. He's also scored seven touchdowns. Forte was a huge part of the Bears success against the Cardinals, gaining 85 yards in the first half and scoring a touchdown.
Frankly, I've been very surprised at the team's inability to utilize him this season. He was an MVP candidate last year, when the Bears started 7-3, and he carried the offense. With the arrival of Marshall, the expectation was that he would be Robin to Marshall's Batman. But that didn't happen.
One of his strengths is his ability to catch the ball, and the Bears haven't been able to do that on a consistent basis. Part of that may be because Forte has injured his right ankle three times this season, which means he was less than 100 percent for much of the year. But with no other receiver or tight end stepping up, the Bears desperately need Forte to be productive if they're going to beat the Lions and make any noise in the postseason - if they get that far.