Four Downs: Right move with Cutler?

What can the Bears expect out of Jay Cutler when he returns? Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY Sports

After four straight successful starts by Josh McCown, Jay Cutler will take back the reins as the starter on Sunday in Cleveland. Is it the right move? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: It's a good decision to play Cutler this week.

Jeff Dickerson:
Fact. The Bears have no reason to sit Cutler on Sunday if the quarterback is medically cleared to play. That has been the organization's stance since Cutler suffered the high ankle-sprain in the Detroit Lions game on Nov. 10. Cutler is the starting quarterback when healthy. It's too late to go back. Plus, it would be nice to see what Cutler can accomplish in the offense over the final three games given that McCown basically lit the world on fire coming off the bench. Cutler's effort down the stretch is likely to directly impact the kind of money he can demand on the open market. This is a crucial stretch for Cutler that could shape the remainder of his career. He deserves the right to play Sunday. And the Bears can always go back to McCown if Cutler struggles badly against the Browns.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. This basically goes against the column I just wrote about McCown being the best option right now, but if you're going to start Cutler this season with the playoffs in mind, you have to start him now. No sense in letting him go another week without real reps. The Browns have good defensive numbers, but they're vulnerable in certain areas. If he's healthy, Cutler should be more than capable of beating Cleveland. With three games left, I have to say I'm more confident in the hot hand, McCown, than Cutler, who had back-to-back lower-body injuries. But the reality of the NFL is you stick with your starter, all things being equal anyway.

Second Down

Fact or Fiction: Regardless of Cutler's status for 2014, the Bears have to draft a quarterback in May.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I don't necessarily think the Bears have to draft a quarterback if they re-sign both Cutler and McCown in the offseason. Bears general manager Phil Emery has a ton of work to do on the defensive side of the football, and limited draft picks to do so. Of course, the Bears might swing a couple of deals and acquire more picks, a real possibility with an aggressive general manager such as Emery calling the shots. Bringing back Cutler and McCown would give the Bears more time to find a young quarterback. Sure, if the Bears have an opportunity to draft a quarterback they love in May, then absolutely, go for it. But what if that guy isn't on the 2014 board for the Bears? Then what? A good team never reaches for a player. Emery doesn't strike me as the type of general manager who would draft a quarterback just for the sake of drafting one. The player needs to make sense for the Bears and fit into what Trestman demands from the quarterback position in his offense. Cutler and McCown back in the fold next season allows the Bears to be patient. In the end, that patience could pay off for the organization in a big way.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I know there's a big buzz about this draft, given the supposed number of NFL-caliber quarterbacks, but the Bears should just commit to drafting the best available player, with an emphasis on defense. They have major holes on the defensive line and the secondary. Now if they think they can great value on a quarterback after the third round, go for it. But if you're going to re-sign Cutler, which I think the Bears will do, what's the sense in grooming an understudy so early? If he signs, Cutler will probably get a four-year deal, so in my mind you have a couple drafts to find a young quarterback to take his place.

Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Lance Briggs won't play again for the Bears this season.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. I don't particularly feel good about this one, but isn't it too early to rule out Briggs for the rest of the season? After all, Briggs did return to the practice field in limited fashion on Thursday, a good first step toward playing before the season is over. Truth be told, I'm surprised Briggs isn't back at this point. The initial timeline when he suffered a small fracture in his left shoulder Oct. 20 in Washington called for Briggs to miss four to six weeks. This is Week 8 and counting. The Bears claim Briggs' bone still isn't completely healed. I'm not a doctor. I have no other choice but to take their word for it. Briggs is one of the best linebackers in franchise history. The Bears have to hope he does everything in his power to return and help the ailing defense before the season runs out.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Briggs, who is out with a fractured left shoulder, told the Sun-Times he was evaluated by doctors on Tuesday and wasn't cleared to play. Marc Trestman told reporters Wednesday that he isn't optimistic about Briggs playing in Cleveland. There are three games left, so it doesn't look good, especially since he was thought to have a four-to-six week injury, and we're past that timeline. If they beat Cleveland, the Bears desperately need him next week in Philadelphia. The Eagles are the top rushing team in football with 2,061 yards, and the Bears are the worst rushing defense in football, having given up 2,041 yards. Briggs' absence could be key to making or missing the playoffs.

Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: Joe Haden will shut down Alshon Jeffery.

Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Hayden is a fine cornerback with 52 tackles, four interceptions and 18 pass break-ups this season, but Jeffery is on a tear with a combined 17 receptions for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the past two weeks. Hayden is 5-foot-11 and weighs 190 pounds. Jeffery stands 6-foot-3 and checks in at 216 pounds. Teams have tried to get physical this season with Jeffery, but his overall results speak for themselves: 75 catches for 1,193 yards and six touchdowns. Even if Hayden somehow stifles Jeffery on Sunday, the Bears can always just feature Brandon Marshall, who has 84 receptions for 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns. Good luck, Cleveland.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I'm not even sure Haden will cover Jeffery. The Browns might decide to sic him on Marshall. It's impossible to shut down both receivers, unless of course the Browns' defensive line punctures the Bears' pocket. But it's tough to stop Jeffery period, especially one-on-one. He's too athletic and nonpareil hands and reach. Look at his catches the past two weeks. When I told Bears cornerback Tim Jennings that Jeffery's back-corner end-zone catch at the end of the first half Monday night was one of the best catches I've seen in person, he said, "Better than last week?" These are the questions we have to answer as Jeffery's star shines.