A month ago, had you said the Chicago Bears would have won two games in a row and could make it three against the then-undefeated Denver Broncos, you would've been laughed out of whatever establishment you found yourself in.
Well, here we are, just days away from Week 11 kickoff, and the Broncos have lost two straight games and now must go forward without the all-time leading passer in NFL history. The panic button hasn't been pressed in Denver yet, but there's serious cause for concern inside a Broncos' locker room that once stood 7-0 atop the football world, now licking their wounds heading into Soldier Field.
The Bears on the other hand are in the midst of playing their best football of the season, standing at 4-5 after two consecutive victories on the road. Quarterback Jay Cutler is playing the best football of his career, and the once-putrid defense has found it's niche, ranking sixth overall in the league against the run.
With the third-easiest remaining schedule in the league, the Bears have a chance to turn their season into a playoff chase with a home win against the Broncos, a team head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase know very well, both coached in Denver together from 2011-14. If anyone knows how to stop this Broncos team, with or without Peyton Manning, it's Fox, but can it be done?
Denver at Chicago
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Chicago -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Bears Running Back Jeremy Langford
In Langford's two games as the Bears' starting running back, he's tallied 384 all-purpose yards, providing great insurance during Matt Forte's absence. Langford, the former fourth-round pick, has proven capable during his short stint as the starter, and surely will be utilized more once Forte returns. Langford is a true threat out of the backfield as a receiver, and has great north-south vision as a runner. The Broncos' defense is expected to focus heavily on Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, but now have to account for Langford everytime he's on the field.
2. Broncos Injuries
Outside of Peyton Manning's absence, DeMarcus Ware and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders aren't expected to play, leaving two gaping holes on both sides of the ball for the Broncos. Rookie edge rusher Shaq Barrett has stepped in quite nicely during Ware's absence, piling up 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles in spot duty. Third-year quarterback Brock Osweiler is slated to start under center in Manning's absence, the quarterback John Fox drafted during his tenure with the Broncos. The passing game takes a relatively large hit with the absence of Sanders, who's responsible for 46 catches for 639 yards and four touchdowns. Expect the Bears to exploit the weakness in the passing game, with an unproven and inexperienced quarterback without one of his leading receivers, and a seemingly anemic running game.
3. Jay Cutler
Cutler is on pace to have his best season as a professional, but the Broncos could be the one team to derail his recent success, considering they're ranked first in the league in nearly ever defensive statistical category, including giving up a stingy 18.7 points per game. Cutler has yet to have a multiple-interception game in 2015, but knowing he'll be facing arugably the league's best cornerback tandem in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. could get inside of his head. Cutler has weapons all around him on offense; Langford, Jeffery, Bennett, and the surging Zach Miller, so as long as he remains patient and confident with the ball in his hands, he could be in for a big day at home.
As mentioned before, this game a month ago was an etched-in-stone Broncos victory, considering where they and the Bears were respectively at that point in the season. However, the tide has turned in tremendous fashion, and now the Bears head into this matchup as one-point favorites at home. The Bears are in a position to turn their season around, and the Broncos are a reeling, injured team on the road without their anchor in Peyton Manning. Some could perceive a victory as a steal by Chicago, but at this point in the season it's only fair to call it what it is - a hard-fought, deserved win.
Prediction: Bears 24, Broncos 19
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.