If you had to vote on which opponent Jay Cutler should miss for any reason, it would be the Packers. So, the Bears should have that going for them on Monday night.
That would appear to be the only thing the Bears have going for them Monday night.
But if there was only one opponent the Bears absolutely needed Cutler to play to assess his value, it would be those same Packers.
Cutler’s groin injury seemed to accelerate a lot of heavy breathing over how much he should get paid and for how long, if at all. The questions had been there all season -- even before the season -- but the evaluation is nearly impossible if he can’t stay healthy, and he hasn’t stayed healthy as a Bear.
Is Cutler worth Joe Flacco money? Flacco won a Super Bowl. Get back to me when Cutler wins more playoff games than Rex Grossman.
Is Cutler worth a franchise tag of $15 million or $16 million? That extends the evaluation period, but it has an end date, which beats what happened with Julius Peppers this season.
Or do the Bears just let him go while they try someone else? That would appear to be an option only if you haven’t watched the Vikings try that silly act.
Cutler’s career stats tell you he’s above average. His 2013 stats are better than that. Critics will tell you to throw out the prevent defense stats this season, and Cutler is back around his career average, and his average has never been Tom Brady’s or Peyton Manning’s average. Cutler’s average season has been unacceptable if your goal is to win the Super Bowl.
So, the tiebreaker -- my tiebreaker for now -- would be the Packers. Cutler has some of his worst games against the Bears biggest rival. He seems to lose his head and his mechanics when the games are the most important.
Which is why playing against the Packers was the most important thing Cutler could do this season.
Cutler is 1-7 against the Packers and has thrown 16 interceptions compared to nine touchdowns with a 61.5 rating. It was imperative to see whether Marc Trestman’s influence and the Bears’ additional offensive weapons would offer evidence of a change. Cutler has faced vexing Packers teams before, but never with wide receivers as good as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, a tight end as good as Martellus Bennett and a running back as good as Matt Forte.
Sure, Cutler has had some of those players for a several seasons, but not altogether and not with an offensive line that he trusts.
Could Cutler produce against the team that regularly brings out his worst?
We won’t know. Worse, the Bears won’t know. Not on Monday night, at least.
However, if he heals quickly the way a lot of people were talking Tuesday at Halas Hall, Cutler might be able to make a significant contract drive against the Packers in the last game of the regular season.
Trestman might not think rivalries matter in the NFL, but I think that rivalry matters in evaluating Cutler going forward.
This season was always about Cutler, and it still is, even without Cutler.