The Bears will look to win their second straight game and maintain sole possession of first place in the NFC North Sunday when they host the Seattle Seahawks at Soldier Field.
The Bears (8-3) own a one-game lead over the Packers (7-4), who host the Vikings (6-5) Sunday, and have the third best record in the NFC behind the Falcons (11-1) and 49ers (8-2-1).
|Defensive end Julius Peppers and the Bears will battle the Seahawks Sunday at Soldier Field.|
Jay Cutler will make his second straight start after missing one game due to a concussion. Since Week 6 of last season, the Bears are 13-2 when Cutler starts and 1-6 when he doesn't.
The veteran quarterback was nearly flawless in the first half of last Sunday's 28-10 win over the Vikings, completing 15 of 17 passes for 117 yards with one touchdown and a 115.0 passer rating.
With right guard Lance Louis suffering a season-ending knee injury versus Minnesota, the Bears are assured of starting a different offensive line combination for the third straight game. Right guard Chris Spencer also hurt his knee last Sunday and will not play against the Seahawks.
Injuries have also depleted the Bears' wide receiver corps. Devin Hester has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a concussion he suffered versus the Vikings and rookie Alshon Jeffery is listed as doubtful after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
The good news on the injury front is that linebacker Lance Briggs (ankle), tight end Kellen Davis (ankle), running back Matt Forte (ankle), defensive tackle Stephen Paea (shoulder), cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle) and guard Edwin Williams (shoulder) are all expected to play.
The Bears no doubt will look to establish the run against Seattle. They averaged only 2.9 yards per carry versus the Vikings but had a season-high 39 rushing attempts. In his last three games, Forte has been limited to 144 yards while averaging 2.8 yards per carry with a long run of eight yards.
After catching 12 passes for 92 yards against the Vikings, Brandon Marshall entered Week 13 ranked third in the NFL with 81 receptions and fifth with 1,017 yards. Last Sunday he became the first Bears receiver to top 1,000 yards in a season since Marty Booker in 2002.
Marshall and the rest of the Bears' receiving corps will be challenged by Seahawks cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, who will play after appealing their four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The Bears defense reverted to form last Sunday, generating three takeaways after not producing any for the first this season in a Monday night loss in San Francisco.
The Bears lead the NFL with 33 takeaways, have allowed the second fewest points per game (15.9) and rank No. 1 defensively in the Aikman Ratings, which include seven statistical categories.
The defense will be challenged by Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who ranks third in the NFL in rushing with 1,051 yards and five touchdowns.
The Bears have contained Lynch in two regular-season meetings the last two years at Soldier Field, holding him to 44 yards on 17 carries in 2010 and 42 yards on 20 attempts in 2011. But the Seahawks won both of those games by scores of 23-20 and 38-14.
Lynch had rushed for more than 100 yards in four straight games before mustering just 46 yards on 19 carries last Sunday in a 24-21 loss to the Dolphins in Miami.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is having an excellent rookie season, passing for 2,051 yards with 17 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 93.9 passer rating while also rushing for 227 yards.
Wilson and the Seahawks have had much more success this season in Seattle, where he's thrown for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions while compiling a 5-0 record, than on the road, where he's passed for six TDs and eight interceptions while going 1-5.
On special teams, Eric Weems will replace the injured Hester as the Bears' primary return specialist. Last Sunday against the Vikings, Weems averaged 21.7 yards on three kickoff returns, well below his 25.3-yard career average.
Weems is in his first year with the Bears after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Falcons. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010 as the NFC's special teams representative.
The Bears must contain Leon Washington, who ranks third in the NFL with a 31.9-yard average and one TD on 18 kickoff returns and 13th with a 9.5-yard average on 27 punt returns.
Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown last Sunday against the Dolphins to increase his career total to eight, tying Josh Cribbs' all-time NFL record.