The NFC North may now be beyond Chicago but a talented offence and a primetime schedule is all the incentive Jay Cutler needs to trouble Tony Romo's faltering Cowboys...
"Dez Bryant is good. But by comparison with Megatron, the Chicago secondary will feel like they’re enjoying a night off."
Dallas Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
Start-time: Friday, 01:30
TV: Live on Sky Sports 1
The sheen is coming off the Dallas Cowboys' polished start to the season. If they're not careful, the wheels could be next. From masters of their own destiny and a potential number-one seeding in the NFC, they have dropped out of the lead for their own division and - for now - the play-off places following a ragged 33-10 Thanksgiving loss to their fierce rivals in Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, at 8-4, they remain in the hunt for the postseason and this Thursday's game against the Chicago Bears can't come quickly enough. Tony Romo, Dallas' progressively beleaguered and desperate quarterback could do with an early Christmas present and on recent evidence they don't come more gift-wrapped than the Bears D.
That said, those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Romo didn't, but he did throw two picks and against the Eagles last week and failed to post a touchdown pass for the first game in forever. He was also sacked four times by a marauding Philly front-four and desperately needs some protection. Romo's spider-sense always used to tingle in the pocket but the aches and pains of back surgery now appear to be catching up with the Boys' general.
When your triggerman is struggling to find a go-to guy of the ability of Dez Bryant (thowing behind the wide receiver who himself also made some poor decisions in his running patterns), your stalwart running man has to step up. Yet DeMarco Murray didn't. From 20 takes, Dallas' star attraction could only muster 73 yards and a single TD. What's worse is not one of his runs clocked up double-digit yards. Indeed, Murray was well and truly put in his place by that flying Eagle, LeSean McCoy.
So the real poser for this primetime match-up is can you forgive the team's leaders their lacklustre performance? A short week and an intense game in New York definitely took its toll, but the Cowboys are starting to look banged-up across the park.
Their opponents at storied Soldier Field are perhaps the only reason for hope - and the Vegas line making the Cowboys solid favourites away from home. For, despite some tangible talent in their ranks, the Bears have been woeful again this term. Jay Culter continues to carry the can for most of the blame but that's unfair in an offense so lopsided that they seem scared to run the ball at all.
This reliance on one-dimensional passing plays means Chicago are easy to predict. They may have got off to a fast start (14-3) in Motor City last Thursday but the Lions quickly caught on to Cutler. Then again, Detroit operate one of the best-pass rushes in the league with an imposing front-four that bring the QB heat.
The Bears defense also like to get after the quarterback. However, long story short, after a depressing 34-17 defeat to Matt Stafford's men, we can surmise that they didn't succeed in their goal. Bear in mind, though, that Stafford was on fire, completing an incredible 77% of his passes, many of them to the unplayable Megatron. Dez Bryant is good, but the Chicago secondary will feel like they're enjoying a night off by comparison.
RB Matt Forte's level has dropped off alarmingly from recent seasons, although he's right that his team need to commit to the run via him and Ka'Deem Carey. Forte had five carries for a career nadir of six yards on his holiday outing to Detroit, so you see his point. Nevertheless, the Bears will ultimately have to take to the air again with their signal-caller if they are to compete and force an upset.
In essence, this will come down to whether the cannon arm of Cutler can keep up with Romo and Murray. He couldn't manage it against the Lions. Yet neither could Romo play catch-up with Philly. Both will fancy their chances of atoning for recent mistakes.
Expect the home side to come out swinging in a bid to appease their frustrated fans. The polarising Cutler still gets out of bed for primetime, while Chicago's team talismen are certainly no quitters. Expect a fast start, via the likes of Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett. The let's see if the Bears can maintain stride with the better team.
For money, especially on some generous handicaps, they assuredly can. The return to form of Jared Allen (who was battling pneumonia earlier this year) is another shot in the arm for the Chicago D. If Romo takes another shot, however, it could be curtains for America's Team.
But hey, these days in Dallas, that's a horror show we get to watch every year.
Back Chicago Bears (+3.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.910/11 or better
Back Chicago Bears (+2.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back Chicago Bears to score Over 23.5 Points @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back M. Bennett to score First / Anytime Touchdown @ 11.010/1 or better