Good Bears or bad Bears: Which team will show up?
It's not just a question of which Bears team we'll see Sunday at the Metrodome against the Vikings.
The question is: Which Bears team will we see the remainder of the season?
The team that coach Lovie Smith has fielded the past four weeks bears no resemblance to the group that started out 7-1.
Sunday's game is especially intriguing because the opponent is Leslie Frazier's 6-6 squad that can't decide whether it's a good team or a bad team. We know the Bears can defeat bad teams just as surely as we know they can't defeat good teams.
We also know the Bears will be without eight-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher because of the hamstring injury he suffered in last Sunday's 23-17 overtime loss to the Seahawks. Even though the defensive captain has lost some range at age 34, his loss is huge given his leadership, smarts and invaluable experience in the system.
The Bears should still be able to defeat a team with only one healthy offensive weapon, Adrian Peterson. Wide receiver Percy Harvin remains a question mark. Quarterback Christian Ponder has often struggled to complete passes more than 15 yards downfield.
A few weeks ago, Bears fans would have been confident of victory. That fast-out-of-the-gate Bears crew appeared to be a Super Bowl contender. But not when you take a closer look at the 6 straight wins it stacked after a 1-1 start.
That streak didn't include a single victory over a team that currently sports a plus-.500 record. The combined record of their six victims is 24-47-1. The "streak" also included victories at home by 6 points and 1 point over the 4-8 Lions and the 3-9 Panthers.
Style points? None.
And now the Bears appear to have been exposed by the difficult portion of the schedule.
Their only victory all year over a team with a winning record came three months ago in the season opener against a Colts team that was clearly not playing as well as it has the past two months while building an 8-4 record.
Against good teams the Bears are winless, having been beaten by 13, 7, 25 and 6 points, including two losses at home.
The result is an abundance of doubts and questions.
Can this team win if it isn't the beneficiary of a lopsided turnover ratio and an unprecedented number of defensive touchdowns?
Can this defense stop a good team if it doesn't take the ball away multiple times?
The Bears defense is predicated on taking the ball away and doing something with it once they have possession. But, no matter how much they stress turnovers, they can't depend on them, at least not against good teams.
Can the Bears line up with even a mediocre team and go toe-to-toe without an edge in turnover ratio and win? If you look at the numbers, you have to wonder.
In 8 victories the Bears have taken the ball away 29 times and have a plus-19 turnover ratio. In 4 losses they've taken it away five times and their turnover-takeaway ratio is minus-5.
The good news is that only one team with a winning record remains on the schedule -- the Packers, at home, a week from Sunday.
The bad news is that three of the final four games are on the road, where the Bears are just 3-2, and those 3 wins were against teams with a combined record of 12-24.