LAKE FOREST | The Bears control their playoff destiny and their best defensive player appears to be on track to return this week.
That would be Lance Briggs.
The Bears remain optimistic he will be ready to play at Philadelphia after he practiced Wednesday on a limited basis.
The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker is trying to work his way back from a small fracture in his left shoulder and help the Bears lock up a playoff spot that appeared to be slipping beyond their reach just a few weeks ago.
That's changed in a big way. And they could be getting a big lift, assuming Briggs returns.
"We'll see where he is," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "It's still day to day. Like I said to you the other day, I'm optimistic he'll play. How much? We'll see how he feels. I'll be able to better answer that question after Friday's practice and it may even go into Sunday. He did get some work today and I did talk him afterwards and he said he felt pretty good, so we'll see where he is tomorrow."
Briggs declined comment Wednesday.
The Bears held receiver Brandon Marshall out of practice because of soreness in his quadriceps and hamstring, but Trestman said he'll practice today.
Briggs, meanwhile, looks like he's on track to play against the Eagles, a major boost for a struggling defense and for a team that controls its playoff destiny after back-to-back victories.
The Bears lead the NFC North at 8-6, with Green Bay (7-6-1) and Detroit (7-7) trying to stay in the race. The division belongs to the Bears if they win their remaining games against the Eagles and Packers, and they could wrap it up this week with some help. A Bears victory plus a Lions loss or tie and a Green Bay loss would do the trick.
Getting Briggs back certainly wouldn't hurt, although conditioning could be a factor given his long layoff and the Eagles' fast tempo.
He hasn't played since Oct. 20, when he was injured at Washington. The Bears initially thought he would miss about six weeks, but the recovery has taken longer.
Without him, the defense has suffered in a big way, particularly against the run, and the Bears are staring at the league's leading rusher this week in LeSean McCoy.
"Lance probably, there might be a little rust there, a transitional period there, maybe in the first quarter or so but we all know what Lance is capable of doing," Marshall said. "He's a monster out there. I wouldn't test Lance too much. His history says enough."
But it would be understandable if the thought of facing the Bears made McCoy just a little giddy, even with Briggs back.
No team has had more trouble stopping the run than the Bears, and they weren't exactly slamming the door before Briggs went down. They were performing better, though.
They went from allowing an average of 102 yards rushing in the six games prior to his injury to 152.4 on the season and dropped from 12th against the run to last. They've given up 198 or more five times in the past eight games and allowed just over 190 on average during that span.
They got mauled by the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (211 yards), gave up 146 yards to Dallas' DeMarco Murray, and they've had a tough time against just about every other running back they've faced in recent weeks. The struggling Ray Rice (131 yards) had a big game for Baltimore, and St. Louis' Benny Cunningham had 109 against them.
Now, here comes McCoy.
"I feel like I'm going to put this game on my back," he said. "I really want to go out there and showcase what we can do offensively running the ball. I bet the guys up front, me and them together, can get this thing done."
That could be tougher if Briggs is playing.
"Before he got hurt, he was having an incredible season, so it will be great to have a guy like him, a perennial Pro Bowler, back," Bears defensive lineman Corey Wootton said. "Hopefully we can have him back."
NOTES: Trestman said QB Jay Cutler is "completely cleared" and had "no swelling," after returning last week from a high left ankle sprain. ... The Bears agreed to a two-year contract with OT Joe Long. He was signed off the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad. The former Wayne State player entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams in 2012.