The Bears have come so far under John Fox that it is difficult to remember just how bad it really was earlier this season. The 0-3 start is long gone from memory and the team has slowly and steadily improved each week and is now playing its best football of the season at just the right time.
NFL teams need to be peaking in December, that's when playoff berths are won or lost and when teams are really preparing to enter that second season and make a run at a Super Bowl.
Chicago isn't quite ready for a deep Lombardi run yet, maybe, but this team does have a shot at the playoffs from a season that many were expecting to end with a top five draft pick.
The NFL is definitely an "anything can happen" league and that has certainly been the case with the last three NFL games played all ended with walk-off touchdowns on the games' final plays.
The Bears host the 3-8 San Francisco 49ers Sunday and while the 49ers are a bad team, ranking bottom five in both offense and defense, the Bears still need to be at their best to win Sunday.
Chicago is just 1-4 at home this year, where they have played some the NFL's best teams (Green Bay, Arizona, Denver, Minnesota) but good teams defend their home turf. The 49ers are 0-5 on the road this year, so ideally the Bears can start turning around their Soldier Field record.
Key players for Sunday:
Tracy Porter, CB - It's difficult to really fear a Blaine Gabbert-led offense, but any game starts with shutting down an opponents best weapons and for San Fran that's Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Boldin continues to play at a high level, leading the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Smith had only 21 catches on the year, but is averaging 21.6 yards per catch. Porter will likely be matched up on either guy at different points in the game, but he needs to continue his high level of play and keep them from beating the Bears' secondary.
Shea McClellin, LB - The 49ers don't do a whole lot well offensively. They are 30th in pass offense and 20th in rush offense. The Bears on the other hand, are 29th against the run. Pernell McPhee said this week that the Bears have to start slowing down opponents run game. This shouldn't be too hard against the 49ers, who are using Shaun Draughn as their lead back. Draughn, a former Bear, was signed off the street and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. He does, however, have 259 scrimmage yards and the Bears will need to slow him down if they want to make Blaine Gabbert beat them. McClellin will be the key in the run game, along with Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson, to the extent that those two split snaps. McClellin has played very well this season but cannot miss any tackles.
Jay Cutler, QB - He goes without saying every week but I'd really like to see him have a big game against a weak defense. The 49ers have allowed 29 total touchdowns (17 passing, 12 rushing) over the course of the season and are allowing 24.6 points per game while scoring just 13.8 PPG. This is an opportunity for the Bears to flex some offensive muscle, especially in the passing game and really put some points on the board.
Honorable mentions - Pernell McPhee, because always, Eddie Goldman, for the run stopping, Alshon Jeffery, for the big pass plays
Which players do you think have to step up?