Four Downs: First Lions, then the division?

Jay Cutler has been cleared to play and is expected to start against the Lions on Sunday. AP Photo/Jose Juarez

Jay Cutler is back, the Green Bay Packers are reeling with the loss of Aaron Rodgers to injury, and the Chicago Bears have a chance to take control of the NFC North with a victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. What a difference a week makes in the NFL.

This week our panel weighs in on the importance of a Bears win over the Lions, the Cutler decision and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will go on to win the NFC North if they beat the Lions on Sunday.

Jeff Dickerson:
Fiction. It's way too premature to declare the Bears king of the NFC North if they knock off Detroit. If the Bears do improve to 6-3, they definitely will have positioned themselves to be a strong contender to win the division, or at the very least qualify for the playoffs. But let's not write off the Green Bay Packers just yet. Rodgers' fractured collarbone is a tough pill to swallow for Green Bay, but the Packers still have a good amount of talent on their roster, and expect several key players to return from injuries in the next couple of weeks. If Green Bay can just get adequate play from Seneca Wallace, or whomever they start at quarterback until Rodgers returns, then I believe the Packers remain contenders. So are the Lions, even if they lose on Sunday at Soldier Field. I have a feeling the race for the NFC North is going down to the wire.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. With Cutler back and a bunch of mediocre to lousy teams left on the schedule, I think the Bears finish strong, despite a porous defense. They hope the signing of defensive tackle Jeremiah (formerly Jay) Ratliff shores up the defensive line, which finally brought consistent pressure at Green Bay last week. That win over Green Bay is important for the Bears for tiebreaking rules. Detroit will play host to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, presumably without Rodgers, while the Bears likely will have to face him at home in the season finale. For a team that looked hopeless after the Washington loss, the Bears' future is bright again.

Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears should protect Cutler and start Josh McCown on Sunday.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Cutler is in the final year of his contract. The Bears don't owe him a cent beyond 2013. If Cutler struggles in the first quarter, then McCown needs to come off the bench and finish the game. This really isn't about protecting Cutler. This is about protecting the team. Does a healthy McCown give the Bears the best chance to win against the Lions? I believe he does. But Cutler pushed hard to return for this game. I think it could be in the best interest of coach Marc Trestman to be ready to give him the hook at a moments' notice.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I argued the opposite in a recent Hot Button, but Cutler believes he can go so you have to let him start. This is reality in the NFL. No team would dare bench a starter for more rest to play a journeyman backup, even one as solid as McCown. This isn't a Colin Kaepernick-Alex Smith situation. In the NBA or any league with a long, drawn-out schedule, you rest your stars. But in the NFL, if a doctor clears you, you play.

Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Ratliff will make an impact for the Bears' defensive line this season.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's impossible to sign off on the idea of Ratliff making an impact until we actually see him on the field. Ratliff told ESPN 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" that he is still a couple of weeks away from returning to the field, so it sounds as if he might not make his Bears debut until Nov. 24 at St. Louis at the earliest. When healthy, Ratliff was one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. But he hasn't played in a game since November 2012. That is a concern.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. He will play at some point soon. If he doesn't suit up, that's a pretty big blunder for a team stretching the salary cap as it is. At 32, Ratliff certainly isn't in the prime of his career, but I'll take a big body and veteran savvy any day. The Bears need help, any help, on that depleted defensive line, and I think the former Pro Bowler can provide it, even if it's in spurts.

Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Calvin Johnson will have more than 200 yards receiving against the Bears.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Johnson will be his usual dangerous stuff, but he's not going over 200 receiving yards on the Bears. Now, is it possible that Reggie Bush rushes for more than 125 yards? You bet it is. And that's a major issue, because the Bears had all kinds of problems stopping Green Bay running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks on Monday. Charles Tillman's knee isn't 100 percent, so that will be working in Johnson's favor Sunday, but I can't see him replicating the kind of game he had against Dallas two weeks ago with 14 catches for 329 yards. I predict the Bears hold Johnson to 150 yards receiving and one touchdown. Consider that a moral victory.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Sure, he's coming off a 329-yard game and sure, the Bears' defense is a train wreck. But while Johnson is a decent bet to break his single-game mark against the Bears -- 133 yards -- I don't think he'll crack 200 for the second straight week and fourth time in his career. The key, of course, is the Bears defensive line. If they can pressure Matthew Stafford like they did to Rodgers and Wallace, Johnson will be lucky to get past the century mark.