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Patrick Finley: Breaking down the Bears as they start the homestretch

As the Bears get ready for their last idle Sunday of the regular season — and a gauntlet that will decide their long-shot playoff fate — the Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley breaks down the road ahead.

Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears
Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky celebrates his rushing touchdown Thursday.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the Bears prepare for their last idle Sunday of the regular season — and a gauntlet that will decide their long-shot playoff fate — the Sun-Times’ Patrick Finley breaks down the road ahead.

Mitch Trubisky has played better lately. Is he the starter next season?

It’s Trubisky’s job to lose because the Bears don’t have enough cap space next season to pay a quarterback guaranteed to be better than he is. Instead, they’ll add a veteran who will push Trubisky for the starting job — or at least provide more of a threat to take it away than Chase Daniel does. The Bears’ straightest line to dominance is for Trubisky to figure things out while he’s still on his rookie deal. The last few weeks have shown it’s still possible. Let’s see how he finishes the season.

What made coach Matt Nagy’s offense finally click?

Confidence. Beating up against weaklings (the Lions twice and the Giants) helped show Trubisky what the offense should look like and, in terms of timing, what it should feel like. To do it against the Cowboys felt like a major step forward. The next three games will test whether it was a one-off or reason for real optimism.

If Akiem Hicks returns but Roquan Smith is out, is that a net gain?

It’s probably a push, considering how well Smith was playing and the fact Hicks hasn’t suited up since Week 5 in London. But I’ll give an ever-so-slight edge to having Hicks back because of the emotional lift he provides his teammates. No one on the Bears is more vocal or passionate on game day. When Khalil Mack calls you ‘‘Mufasa,’’ you know you’re respected.

What’s the biggest question for the Bears down the stretch?

Is this Trubisky’s new normal, or is he closer to the inconsistent, inaccurate, uncertain quarterback who helped to torpedo the Bears through the first three months of the season? If the answer tilts toward the former, that’s a positive development, given where the Bears were a month ago.

What will the Bears’ final record be?

8-8 — and that accounts for the possibility the Vikings have nothing to play for in the season finale. Winning at Lambeau Field will prove too daunting. The letdown of a season finally taken off life support might turn game against the Chiefs into a dud, too.

Will it be enough to make the playoffs?

Nope. But it will mean the Bears won five of their last eight games after their sky-is-falling loss to the Eagles. That’s enough for the ever-positive Nagy to point to all offseason.

What would qualify this as a successful season?

This season isn’t a success. To make the last three weeks successful, though, the Bears need points. Finishing the season on an offensive upswing would be proof of concept for Nagy’s playbook and a jumping-off point for the most critical offseason of Trubisky’s career.