Six weeks into the NFL season, the Chicago Bears sat tied for the NFC North lead with four wins and two losses.
Then, Week 7 yielded three major losses, a defeat at the hands of the 1-4 Washington Redskins, the loss of linebacker Lance Briggs and the loss of quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears lost 45-41, while their defence was burned for 499 yards by Robert Griffin III and the Redskins' offence.
Cutler suffered a groin injury and Briggs a small fracture in his left shoulder. Cutler is expected to return to the Bears offence in 3-to-5 weeks, while Briggs is out at least a month on the other side of the ball.
Josh McCown replaced Cutler at quarterback and finished 14-for-20 for 204 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The Bears used three rushing touchdowns from Matt Forte and an 81-yard punt return from Devin Hester to keep pace with the Redskins before ultimately falling.
Following their Week 8 bye, the Bears sit third in the NFC North behind the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. However, a win tonight against the Packers would put the Bears into a three-way tie for the division lead.
You can watch the game live on TSN at 8:30pm et/5:30pm pt.
The key question for the Bears is whether they compete in the division without Cutler.
Chicago's next two games are both against divisional opponents, with the Lions coming up next week. With losses in both games the Bears would fall to 4-4 and be at least two games out of the division lead.
The Bears will likely rely heavily on Forte in Cutler's absence, as the running back ranks third in the NFL in yards per game (76.1) and eighth in yards per attempt (4.6).
Forte faces a tough matchup tonight however, against the Packers' fourth-ranked run defence.
The once-vaunted Bears defence has struggled this season, giving up the seventh-most yards per game and fourth-most points per game.
If that trend continues the Bears will likely be left little choice but to put the ball in McCown's hands to keep pace with the Packers' second-ranked offensive unit.
McCown hasn't started a game since the 2011 season when he started two for the injured Cutler. He went 1-1 in those two games, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His lone loss came against the Packers on Christmas night.
Two straight divisional losses for the Bears could be the difference between making the playoffs and missing the postseason for the third straight season.
Can the Bears compete in the NFC North without Cutler? As always, it's Your! Call.