For the time being, the Dallas Cowboys are on the outside looking into the NFL playoff picture. That's because the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers won Sunday. But if the Cowboys can extend their winning streak to three games with a Monday night victory over the Chicago Bears, they'll shoot all the way up to the No. 3 spot in the NFC.
Dallas had a painfully bad experience when it played Chicago last year, committing five turnovers in a 16-point loss to the Bears on Monday Night Football in October.
But this year, the Cowboys have been stronger while Chicago has been hammered by injuries. They've won just a single game since losing quarterback Jay Cutler one month ago, and Cutler will be out again Monday night.
Here's our final preview of the matchup from Dallas' perspective, along with a prediction.
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Dallas must make DeMarco Murray the centerpiece of the offense. Or at least something close to that. If that's the goal, then you can be sure that Murray won't be underused.
This depleted Bears defense has surrendered a league-high 5.9 yards per carry since Week 7. Without Henry Melton, Nate Collins, D.J. Williams, Lance Briggs, Stephen Paea and Charles Tillman, that defense is a mess.
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Limit Matt Forte. He's playing well, and the Bears will look to lean on him in order to keep the heat off Josh McCown. Dallas has also been vulnerable on the ground of late. Sean Lee is back, but who knows how rusty or healthy he'll actually be.
Five most important non-quarterbacks
Lee: Forte had 120 yards on 23 carries last week, and with Lee out, that defense was torn apart by Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs.
Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware: They'll set the tempo on D, and some pressure will be required because the Bears have a deep group of receivers.
Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick: They'll have their hands full with Brandon Marshall and the red-hot Alshon Jeffery.
|Worst run defenses since Week 7|
|Pro Football Reference|
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
Dallas survived in the win column without Lee, but that defense was really bad against the run at certain points. They'll benefit greatly from his return, especially if he's able to be a three-down player.
This might also get Dwayne Harris back. Harris is one of the most dangerous return men in the league. They'll continue to miss him if he cannot suit up, but he's officially questionable.
Morris Claiborne has been ruled out. His absence isn't tragic because Scandrick has become the No. 2 corner.
Injury analysis, Bears edition
We know about Cutler, Melton, Williams, Tillman and Collins, but Marshall has also been dealing with a quad injury, and it doesn't look as though they'll be getting Briggs back just yet. It's really a mess, and it all means that Dallas has to focus on the run on both sides of the ball.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Cowboys 27, Bears 17
Chicago's run defense cannot stop anybody, and the Cowboys are finally realizing how important Murray is. Murray, who leads all qualifying backs with 4.9 yards per carry, should dominate Chicago's D as the well-rested Cowboys continue to heat up with an easy victory over a Bears team that has lost three of four and won't have Cutler.