Dec 8, 2011
THE STORY: Following their 31-20 victory over San Diego in Week 11, the Chicago Bears were 7-3 and seemed to have one of the NFC wild card berths within their grasp. But after the game, it was revealed that quarterback Jay Cutler broke the thumb on his throwing hand. Two losses later, the Bears limp into Denver to meet the Broncos on Sunday in what amounts to a must-win game. Denver, which has won five straight and is 6-1 since Tim Tebow took over at quarterback, is also lucky. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson did not play last week in the Broncos' 35-32 victory over the Vikings, and Bears top rusher and receiver - Matt Forte - will miss Sunday's game with a sprained MCL. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Chicago quarterback Caleb Hanie, a former Colorado State standout who has stood out for all the wrong reasons since taking over for Cutler.
TV: FOX, 4:05 p.m. ET. LINE: Broncos -3.5, O/U 35.5
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (7-5): Denver is tied for first in the AFC West with Oakland, which plays at Green Bay on Sunday. Tebow has one interception and two lost fumbles to go along with 10 touchdown passes and three rushing scores. Linebacker Von Miller and his NFL rookie-leading 10.5 sacks are expected back after missing last week with a thumb injury. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had career highs in yards (144) and touchdowns (two) against Minnesota. Denver finishes with New England, at Buffalo and Kansas City.
ABOUT THE BEARS (7-5): Hanie has two touchdowns and six interceptions, and hasn't displayed the form which nearly rallied Chicago against Green Bay in last season's NFC Championship Game. The Bears will try to replace Forte with Marion Barber, who is expected to get the hard carries, and Kahlil Bell, who is better coming out of the backfield. It looks like the Bears will have to win three of their last four games to have a shot to make the playoffs. They finish with Seattle, at Green Bay and at Minnesota.
1. Denver's No. 1 rushing offense (158.9 yards per game), led by Willis McGahee (886), meets Chicago's No. 9 run defense (99.8).
2. This is the Bears' fourth consecutive game against an AFC West team. They are 1-2, including a 25-20 loss at Oakland in Week 12.
3. Denver has two players on the roster from its last playoff team in 2005 - cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker D.J. Williams.
PREDICTION: Broncos 27, Bears 24. Chicago's offense comes back to life, but Tebow finds Thomas to win it in the final minute.
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