The Bears expect to have Jay Cutler back as their starting quarterback after reportedly being cleared by an independent neurologist checking for concussion symptoms lingering from the head blow he took against the Houston Texans.
On the other side, the Minnesota Vikings wont have wide receiverkickoff returner Percy Harvin, unable to practice all week because of an ankle injury.
Make those two significant personnel positives tilting in the Bears favor. Harvin leads the Vikings with 62 catches, nearly double the next-highest total of 34 for Kyle Rudolph, and leads NFL with a return average of 35.9 yards.
But the Cutler return is a game-changer, literally, both for what it brings to the offense in production and in presence. Put another way, the Bears believe theyre a good team with Cutler.
And right now they need to feel something positive on offense, after two games with a combined one touchdown, two offensive-line demotions,
Cutler for his part had a week off to observe (at a distance since he did not make the team flight to San Francisco) and presumably gain a small bit of urgency from not being able to help teammates in a dire situation.
Its different because I really didnt take part in the meetings or practice, Cutler said. It was kind of like a bye week. When you get hurt its an isolated feeling. Your identity with the team is gone and its a helpless feeling not being able to help them and not be where you want to be, out there with the guys.
Now hell have that chance.
Three and done?
Cutlers return comes at a pivotal juncture. The remaining six games are all against NFC teams, four of the six against NFC North opponents.
As much as coaches and players point to the fact that the Bears are still 7-3 after consecutive losses to Houston and San Francisco, only once in franchise history (1979) has a Bears team lost three straight games and reached postseason.
And that team needed to win seven of its last eight to get in. Since this team doesnt have eight, only six, this game becomes a borderline absolute must whether the Bears like it or not.
We have three losses, coach Lovie Smith said. Must? Theres nothing about must when you have three losses. Its a game we want to win in the worst way. We look at every game, its about this week and we need to get a win in the worst way. But big picture it doesnt really say that.
Its Minnesota, a division home game and we havent played well in a couple of weeks. We need to win.
The Vikings will say the same. They defeated the Detroit Lions last week but lost their two before that to approach the brink of sinking into the mass of mediocrity.
Coach Leslie Frazier is 0-3 against his old team and none of his Vikings units scored more than 14 points against the Bears.
The past is the past, insisted running back Adrian Peterson, who has been less than dominant after demolishing the Bears in 2007-08 as a young Viking. Its different guys they have on their front. Theyve got different guys offensively. Were looking to turn things around.
Peterson and the Vikings are not the only ones in search of a turnaround or at least major course correction.
The anticipated progress of the offense under first-time coordinator Mike Tice with new weapons like Brandon Marshall and a line returning No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi has not happened. The Bears are 30th in yardage per game (299.4) and are 31st in passing.
Tice is pointing thumb, however, not the finger.
After watching the San Francisco debacle, Tice had some of his harshest criticisms for himself.
It was hard to watch, Tice said. It should have been hard to watch yourself, because thats your resume. And right now my resume is not very good. Im the one calling the plays. Im the one leading the offense and I have to do a better job. I have to find a way to do a better job for us, for all of us, the players, and for my peers that I work with and for the fans.