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Bears-Trubisky Football

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky leaves the field after a game against the New York Giants.  Trubisky expects to return against the Los Angeles Rams after missing the past two games because of a right shoulder injury.

Speculation swirls in Green Bay over the murky future of mercurial quarterback Aaron Rodgers and who will replace coach Mike McCarthy, whose abrupt firing last week declared the death of the Packers season.

Up in Minnesota, the relationship between Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo sounds icier than any of the state's 10,000 lakes as one of the NFC's most disappointing teams plots a late playoff run.

Over in Detroit, the poor Lions again resemble the Lions with veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford losing his fourth-quarter touch and new coach Matt Patricia lecturing reporters about sitting up straight but failing to instill a championship posture.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, the Bears sit atop the NFC North with clear view of the postseason, a beautiful sight after eight years of seeing January as nothing more than the month vacation started.

Not this year. Not the way the Bears have regained the benefit of the doubt to believe they can go at least 2-2 over the final four games to finish 10-6. The Bears pass the eye test and the brains who rely on computer analysis love them, too.

Most projections make the Bears a safe bet to qualify for the postseason -- such as fivethirtyeight.com that gives them a 94 percent chance at the playoffs and 79 percent shot at the division title. And if the Bears lose Sunday night to the Rams, those chances only decrease a smidgen to 91 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

That makes Sunday's prime-time game more must-watch than must-win. But it's hardly a make-or-break moment for a franchise headed in the right direction.

This game isn't a referendum on the 2018 Bears. This matchup is more like the 2018 Rams vs. the 2017 Rams, the NFL's most dangerous team facing an up-and-coming opponent. This is the Bears letting America in on Chicago's secret, that they are at least a year ahead of schedule the way the 2009 Blackhawks and the 2015 Cubs were when they arrived as contenders before anybody realistically expected.

No matter what the Soldier Field scoreboard says around 10:30 Sunday night, this is a game the Bears can't lose.

That's the best way for the Bears to approach underdog status at home, by embracing it with players who are carefree but confident, bold yet smart, fearless without being reckless. The Bears have a better chance of beating the Rams if they play like they don't buy into the notion they have to win to keep their season goals alive.

So if coach Matt Nagy wants to prove he can call plays as cleverly as counterpart Sean McVay, let him try. Beating the Rams requires Nagy being Nagy, just as his laminated play sheet reminds him in big, bold letters.

That goes for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, too, even if Trubisky will be taking a snap for the first time in three weeks. Players who take the field most concerned about reinjuring themselves expose themselves to more harm. Doctors wouldn't have cleared Trubisky if playing posed a greater risk than normal, so Mitch must be the same quarterback he was before the layoff.

That means moving the pocket and buying time with his feet against a Rams pass rush that includes the imposing trio of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler. That means scrambling for a first down on third-and-long if man coverage downfield invites Trubisky to tuck it and run. That means letting Trubisky show his workout buddy, Rams quarterback Jared Goff, how far he has come since the last time they threw a football on the same field.

For a defense that includes its share of individual stars, the Rams have at times given up points in droves. They have given up almost as many points in their last four games (143) as the Bears have in their last seven (145). They have been susceptible to explosive plays. They have holes Nagy has to find and Trubisky needs to exploit.

The two elite units in this showdown are the Rams offense and the Bears defense. Whether the Bears front seven can clog holes enough to stop Rams running back Todd Gurley, the NFL's leading rusher, will determine how one-dimensional McVay becomes.

In the past two games, the Bears have struggled stopping the run. Goff and his deep receiving corps will threaten the Bears secondary more than any group this season. Yet if the Rams offense meets its match in the Bears defense -- a strong possibility on a wintry 30-degree December night on the lakefront -- then expect the game to hinge on how well the Rams stop the Bears.

Can the Rams' 71-year-old defensive coordinator Wade Phillips outsmart the Bears' 40-year head coach with the catalog of 750 plays?

That's an invitation for Nagy's innovation. If the Bears can't RSVP, nobody in town needs to overreact. Remember, this still looks like a team going places no matter what happens Sunday.

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