Could this be deja vu all over again for the Bears?
Last season, after a 7-3 start had them cruising toward the playoffs with games against some very beatable opponents coming up, the Bears lost five straight – in no small part thanks to injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte.
This year, they started 7-1 – with a probability of making the playoffs at more than 95 percent. After imploding on offense against Houston (and losing Cutler to a concussion) and imploding on defense against San Francisco, is it time to hit the panic button?
If the Bears can't keep their stars on the field, it might be. Cutler should be back this week, but they'll watch him closely. Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers are a little dinged up on defense. Brandon Marshall is dinged up on offense. All should be on the field Sunday against Minnesota in what suddenly is an absolutely crucial game.
The Bears get the Vikings twice in the next three weeks, with the Seahawks sandwiched in between at home before playing the Packers at Soldier Field. They close on the road at Arizona and Detroit, and trust me when I say they don't want the pressure of going on the road to try to clinch a playoff spot.
The way the Packers are surging, despite last week's close call, winning the North may no longer be an option for the Bears. They'll want to wrap up a likely playoff berth in the next month, and that means rattling off three straight starting Sunday.
Because of the last couple weeks, there's been absolutely nothing to be thankful for if you wear navy and orange.
Minnesota (6-4) at BEARS (7-3)
Noon Sunday, Fox. Pick'em (NL)
The skinny: Assuming Jay Cutler is back and good to go after his week off recovering from a concussion, the Bears should be fine at home, where they're 4-1, against a Vikings team that has struggled on the road – and struggled against Chicago. The Bears' O-line will want to step things up immensely, though, to keep Cutler from getting hit.
MattE’s pick: Bears 27, Vikings 17.
Buffalo (4-6) at COLTS (6-4)
Noon Sunday. Colts -3 (51.5)
The skinny: Minus Andrew Luck's two pick-six gaffes, two fumbles and a pair of special teams touchdowns by the Patriots, the Colts might've had a shot last week. Instead, they lost by, oh, 35 points. They'll improve on the mistakes at home, but plan on another shootout.
MattE’s pick: Colts 37, Bills 31.
Oakland (3-7) at Cincinnati (5-5)
Noon Sunday. Bengals -8 (49)
The skinny: The Raiders' losses have averaged 22 points a game the last three weeks, and the Bengals have been on a roll and get to play one of the league's worst teams at home. Should be smooth sailing for Cincy.
MattE’s pick: Bengals 31, Raiders 17.
Pittsburgh (6-4) at Cleveland (2-8)
Noon Sunday. Steelers -1 (34.5)
The skinny: The Steelers are down to their third-string QB, Charlie Batch, and in definite uh-oh territory. But Batch has 53 career starts and has been in the Steelers' system a long time. He'll step up on the road.
MattE’s pick: Steelers 23, Browns 20.
Denver (7-3) at Kansas City (1-9)
Noon Sunday. Broncos -10 (44)
The skinny: This has been a back-and-forth rivalry, but that was before Peyton Manning was a Bronco. He's on his way to another MVP award, and the Chiefs are on their way to an eighth consecutive loss and the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.
MattE’s pick: Broncos 33, Chiefs 13.
Seattle (6-4) at Miami (4-6)
Noon Sunday. Seahawks -3 (37.5)
The skinny: With Seattle's problems on the road and the Dolphins' recent problems in general, this could be a real stinker. The Dolphins' run defense has been solid, but I still think Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch could give them trouble.
MattE’s pick: Seahawks 24, Dolphins 17.
Atlanta (9-1) at Tampa Bay (6-4)
Noon Sunday. Falcons -1 (49.5)
The skinny: What's the best way to be a 9-1 team and be favored by only a point against a team who was 1-4 just five weeks ago? How 'bout your starting QB throws five picks in a game you were lucky to win? The Bucs' offense has been absolutely on fire, so they could make this very interesting.
MattE’s pick: Falcons 34, Bucs 31.
Tennessee (4-6) at Jacksonville (1-9)
Noon Sunday. Titans -3 (43.5)
The skinny: Even though the Titans should be rested and healthy off their bye, and the Jags exhausted after going 13 minutes into overtime before finally falling to the Texans, I smell an upset. The Jags put up 37 points on Houston, one of the league's best defenses. At home, they'll give their fans something rare to cheer about.
MattE’s pick: Jaguars 26, Titans 20.
Baltimore (8-2) at San Diego (4-6)
3:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS. Ravens -1 (47)
The skinny: Even without Ray Lewis, the Ravens have been solid on defense, as usual. In the last two months, the Chargers' two wins have come against the 1-9 Chiefs. That should say all you need to know.
MattE’s pick: Ravens 31, Chargers 17.
San Francisco (6-2-1) at New Orleans (5-5)
3:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox. 49ers -1.5 (49)
The skinny: The Niners upset the Saints in the playoffs last year, despite big numbers from Drew Brees. The Saints are on a roll, and at home Brees will be big again.
MattE’s pick: Saints 30, 49ers 23.
St. Louis (3-6-1) at Arizona (4-6)
3:25 p.m. Sunday. Cardinals -2.5 (37.5)
The skinny: The Rams' last win came against these same Cardinals, who have lost six straight since starting a surprising 4-0. But Arizona gets Beanie Wells back at RB, and playing at home should be just enough of an edge.
MattE’s pick: Cardinals 23, Rams 20.
Green Bay (7-3) at N.Y. Giants (6-4)
7:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC. Giants -3 (50)
The skinny: This should be fun, just like last year's regular-season meeting and the playoff game the Giants won on their way to a Super Bowl title. The Giants will be well-rested off their bye, which should help. But sometimes you have to go with the hot hand, and the Packers have won five straight while the Giants have dropped two in a row. I like Green Bay with the road upset.
MattE’s pick: Packers 34, Giants 30.
Carolina (2-8) at Philadelphia (3-7)
7:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN. Panthers -2.5 (41)
The skinny: The Panthers have lost seven of eight, and the Eagles have lost six straight. Even when Philly was 2-0 and 3-1, I was on the early bandwagon that they were a fraud, and that proved to be true. With no Mike Vick and perhaps no LeSean McCoy, the Panthers will win on the road in one of the worst Monday Night Football games in history.
MattE’s pick: Panthers 23, Eagles 16.
Last week: 12-2 straight up, 6-8 against the spread. Season: 103-56-1 (.644) straight up, 84-75-1 (.525) against the spread.
Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist whose NFL picks have appeared in The Times for 10 seasons. He also covers mixed martial arts for The Times, USA Today and is the assistant editor of MMAjunkie.com.