Too bad John Fox wasn't back in a first-year time warp from 2011. A 5-7 record and a battle for first place in a division would feel quite comfortable, since his 8-8 start in Denver worked out well (the Broncos won the division and a playoff game).
The difference four years later in the NFC North is that it finds him three games behind, in third place - unlike 5-7 Washington, which still holds the top spot in the wretched NFC East via tie-breaker despite Monday Night's wild 19-16 home loss to Dallas. Fifty-eight minutes of snoredom turned into an exhilarating final two minutes, which keeps the NFL the popular thing that it is. With both teams coming off gut-wrenching home losses, neither will be in a particularly cheery holiday mood. Just don't ask what to expect, especially with the Bears 1-5 at home and Washington 0-5 on the road.
RG-Who? The second overall pick in 2012 who set a rookie quarterbacking standard in 2012 - leading the franchise to its only winning record since 2007 (and only non-last place finish) has had nothing but health and compatibility issues since Jay Gruden took over as head coach in 2014. Reconstructive knee surgery, dislocated ankle, two concussions. Gruden got tired of waiting. Enter Kirk Cousins, at the risk of owner Daniel Snyder's wrath and Gruden's job security.
But Cousins (a fourth-rounder in 2012, the same year Griffin was picked) has clearly taken over the signal-calling reins. RGIII is now "III-String" behind Colt McCoy. Cousins ("You like that?! YOU LIKE THAT!!") has taken control, especially after leading a comeback from a 24-0 home deficit versus Tampa Bay in Week 7 to a 31-30 win. The Michigan State product has been amazing at home (75.2 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions). He'll try to start fixing his 6:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the road Sunday on the lakefront.
Alfred Morris (a sixth-rounder from that 2012 class that made an immediate impact) continues to produce, albeit at a more conservative clip. 2015 third-rounder Matt Jones is a tank (6'2, 231), but the combo averages only about 3.5 yards a clip, though both have home run abilities.
The DeSean (Jackson) Drama from Monday Night was the mercurial wideout in a nutshell. He missed two months after a shoulder injury in the opener but in his fifth game back, tried doing too much on a late punt return that turned into a fumble and go-ahead touchdown with 1:14 left. Thrity seconds later, he caught the tying touchdown pass. He and Pierre Garcon will present an upgrade in challenges to Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller from the 49ers' receiving corps. Complicating matters is tight end Jordan Reed, whose 58 catches and six touchdowns lead Washington, despite missing two games with a concussion.
D.C. invested up front by selecting Iowa's Brandon Scherff fifth overall this past April, and sticking the former Iowa tackle at guard, stabilizing the right side, while three-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams remains a rock on the left side.
It was tough to truly evaluate Washington's defense against the Romo-less Cowboys, yet it still found a way to lose for just the second time at home. The Redskins came in ranked 22nd overall in defense, but let's remember San Francisco was 29th. Sunday's game turned into the ninth in 12 games the Bears managed two or fewer offensive touchdowns.
The reason Jarvis Jenkins is in Chicago is because Rod Marinelli's son-in-law, Joe Barry, signed Fox's former run-stuffer in Denver, Terrance Knighton, and former Bear Stephen Paea in free agency. Jason Hatcher rounds out the front, but he's been disappointing from a production standpoint since coming over from Dallas prior to last season. Chris Baker's been most effective rotating in with five sacks.
Ryan Kerrigan is the pass-rushing stud on the outside edge (6.5 sacks this year, 13.5 last year, 44.5 in his fifth season in which he's never missed a start). 2014 second-rounder Trent Murphy's starting to click on the other edge with another sack Monday night. Will Compton and Keenan Robinson do their jobs inside, ranking second and third in tackles, respectively.
[NBC SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
The real interesting storyline comes in the secondary. With Chris Culliver recently placed on injured reserve, DeAngelo Hall is back in the starting lineup. The last time the Bears made the playoffs in 2011, Hall picked off Jay Cutler four times at Soldier Field (including one returned for a touchdown). They yapped at each other a few times since, though the 2013 encounter was quiet in D.C. before Cutler's groin injury. Opposite corner Bashaud Breeland had 12 passes defensed going into Monday night's game, while free safety Dashon Goldson was with Vic Fangio for his first two years in San Francisco before departing via free agency.
Let's not also forget Fangio chose between the Bears and Washington for their respective defensive coordinator vacancies, and chose the Bears.
Releasing Kai Forbath early in the season was a bit of a surprise, but replacement kicker Dustin Hopkins has gone 21-of-24, with those three misses nothing under 40 yards. Ex-Bear Tress Way was a "camp leg" who turned into one of the league's best punters (left-footed too) in 2014 and has picked up where he left off. More concerning for the Bears coverage units is that both Jeremy Ross and Andre Roberts have returned kicks for touchdowns this season.