It’s a shortened week of preparation for a road game against a winning team in a place that has been historically unkind to them.

And it’s a game the Bears have to win to validate their record, their victory over the Vikings, and – most importantly – their self-image as an unfairly doubted contender.

What Lovie Smith and his players have to understand is that no team is above skepticism, especially this year. The odd symbiosis works for them, since Smith’s primary motivational tactic is to play up the belief that media and fans think the team is bad, and each snap is a chance to prove them wrong.

The tactic is largely based on a fallacy: anyone paying attention to what really is written and said each day knows the consensus on the Bears has been quite evenhanded. They have been credited fairly for solid performances and ripped for poor ones. Rabbit-ears at Halas Hall are tuned only to the shrillest of frequencies, and filter out complexity, nuance and mitigating qualifications. This helps them feed their perverse, unprofessional need for “haters.”

So tonight’s game in Miami sets up as the best chance yet to display actual NFL quality.

The Dolphins’ quarterback is a third-string gadabout who is totally unremarkable and insignificant. He has been played up all week like a Lou Holtz opponent, but you will have forgotten his name entirely within three years.

Their best player is left tackle Jake Long, but his left shoulder was dislocated last week, and he may be replaced by a stumblebum. Long may try to play with a harness on (and enough cc’s of Xylocaine to numb a hippopotamus), and would contend with Julius Peppers.

Peppers was lured to Chicago with $91.5 million so he could take advantage of just this kind of opportunity. That money was spent to purchase victories on nights like this.

The offensive line is crowing about finally coming together, and Frank Omiyale has apparently woken up to find that he is Anthony Munoz. They will see the blitzes and dogs from Miami that Minnesota wrongly decided they didn’t need Sunday, and that have caused communication and assignment problems for the Bears all season.

A running game lauded for its resurrection has not actually gained many yards, save for Jay Cutler breaking away from pass-rushers and fleeing to open space. Commitment to running is wonderful and all, but standards should set higher – we can ask that it actually work.

With two wins after their off week thanks to mostly-solid defense, the Bears are in position to bank another victory against an injured team. Playoffs then become probable despite a daunting slate of games to come. NFL teams taking umbrage at criticism back up their words by doing what they are supposed to do, like beating the Dolphins tonight.

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