The Chicago Bears are building a competitive roster with young players who can be the foundation to get them out of the NFC North basement in future seasons, but their immediate goal is to put a road block in the Detroit Lions' uphill path to the playoffs.
They took a positive step with last week' 33-7 road win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bears dominated every positive category – a 482-234 advantage in yards gained, 29-14 in first downs and more than 38 minutes of possession time.
Take a look at five key matchups for the Lions-Bears game Saturday at Ford Field.
The win ended a five-game losing streak, but the Bears were competitive in every game except for a 31-3 loss to the Eagles. The Bears want to carry last week's performance over to Saturday afternoon's nationally televised game against the Lions at Ford Field.
The Bears are looking for inspiration anywhere they can find it. They're destined to miss the playoffs for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons.
With the Vikings close to wrapping up the North title and the Lions and Packers harboring playoff hopes with matching 7-6 records, the Bears are relegated to the role of spoiler.
It's not the first choice of how head coach John Fox wants to end the season. He wants his team to close out the final quarter of the schedule strong.
"Our approach has been, it's the final quarter of the season, and we took this approach a week ago going to Cincinnati," Fox said in a conference-call interview with the Detroit media this week. "Division opponent (the Lions). Division rival.
"My experience is always, the records kind of go out the window, and I think these guys are pros. They have a lot of pride, and we want to finish this season off strong."
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell can vouch from watching video of the Bears-Bengals game —plus their performance in a 27-24 loss to the Lions at Soldier Field last month – for how they're a more dangerous opponent than their 4-9 won-loss record indicates.
"You look at a performance they had last week, and they're hitting their stride," Caldwell said.
The Bears gave the Lions all they could handle in the first game. The Lions had to overcome a 10-0 deficit, then hang on when Connor Barth's 46-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left was so far wide right that it landed almost closer to Gary, Ind., than the right upright.
Chicago's young offensive players had big games against the Bengals. Jordan Howard, who has already gone over the 1,000-yard mark for the second year, led a 232-yard ground assault with 147 yards and two TDs.
Howard had rushing totals of 111 and 86 yards in the two games against the Lions last year, and he had a 50-yard run early in last month's game.
Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is starting to show why the Bears drafted him second overall. A week after completing 80 percent of his passes (12-15) in a one-point loss to the 49ers, he completed 25 of 32 (78.1 percent) for 271 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals.
Other members of the 2017 draft class chipped in against the Bengals.
Tight end Adam Shaneen, a second-round pick, tied his season high for catches (four) for a season-high 44 yards and his third TD.
Running back Tarik Cohen (fourth round) rushed for 80 yards. And safety Eddie Jackson (fourth round) had his second interception and a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Fox can see better days on the horizon, although he might not be around for them. He has a 13-32 won-loss record, and there have been reports that he will not be retained.
"I think when we got here it was a very old roster, and the oldest in the league I believe," Fox said. "I don't know where we rank now but we have a lot of good, young players – first- or second-year guys that we feel good about.
"They perform well for us. So yeah, I think how you finish the end of the season can definitely be a factor in the following season."