Money is obviously a great motivator, even for NFL quarterbacks who already have a ton of it. So with his job security being questioned in a contract year, Jay Cutler is playing hero and returning earlier than expected to rescue the Chicago Bears.
Cutler is a tough guy and a team guy, some will say. And if you’re a telemarketer, those are the suckers you want to call.
When he limped off the field with a groin injury on Oct. 20, Cutler was projected to miss a month. To his credit, he was aggressive with the rehabilitation and put himself in position to come back quickly.
But the Bears are not in need of rescue. This is not “Baywatch,” and the Bears are not flailing in the riptide, waiting for David Hasselhoff to come charging out from his lifeguard post.
Chicago was fine with backup Josh McCown, who has played well on the road and passed for 272 yards and two touchdowns Monday in a 27-20 victory at Green Bay. McCown has the hot hand. Cutler was going cold even before the injury.
Cutler has been cleared to play Sunday against the Detroit Lions, and McCown is going back to clipboard duty. Cutler wants to prove he’s an elite-level franchise quarterback worth around $17 million a year, and the Bears are considering whether to re-sign him.
In 2011, Cutler bailed on the Bears after one series of the third quarter and sulked as they lost the NFC title game to the Packers. His knee injury, a sprained medial collateral ligament, invited critics, including Mike Ditka, to question his toughness and commitment to the team.
All of that aside, is Cutler returning too soon, and would Chicago be better off with McCown starting Sunday? The oddsmakers prefer Cutler. The Lions opened as 2½-point favorites at Soldier Field, and after news of Cutler’s comeback, the Bears are 1-point favorites at most books.
Cutler has a point to prove against a Detroit defense that forced him into four turnovers and sacked him three times in the Lions’ 40-32 victory in Week 4. He can lean on his two big wideouts, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and running back Matt Forte.
This is a pivotal game for both teams. The Bears, Lions and Packers are tied atop the NFC North at 5-3, and Green Bay is in a precarious position after the injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Detroit is in a good spot, off a bye after the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson pitch-and-catch parade in a thrilling victory over Dallas. Chicago has been shaky at home, 3-1 straight up but 0-3-1 against the spread. I preferred the Bears in this division revenge situation with McCown, and I’ll stick to their side with Cutler at a different number.
Four more plays for Week 10 (home team in CAPS):
■ STEELERS (-3) over Bills: Pittsburgh is not worth betting many times the rest of the way. But coach Mike Tomlin is a motivator, and Ben Roethlisberger is the far better quarterback in this matchup. Buffalo is going back to rookie EJ Manuel, who has not played since a Week 5 injury and should be rusty. The Steelers will send blitzes at Manuel all day.
■ RAVENS (+1½) over Bengals: What is wrong with the Baltimore offense? Almost everything. Joe Flacco is completing just 59.4 percent of his passes and appears to be walking in his sleep. Ray Rice is getting 2.7 yards per carry. But the Ravens are 3-0 ATS at home and due for a better effort as ’dogs.
■ CHARGERS (+7) over Broncos: A year ago in San Diego, the Broncos overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit to win 35-24. The Chargers, who continue their trend of blowing close games, could be 7-1. Peyton Manning is showing a few signs of wearing down, and Denver still is overvalued by the public, failing to cover three of its past four games.
■ SAINTS (-6½) over Cowboys: The Dallas offense is getting away from the run and putting too much on Tony Romo’s unreliable right arm. New Orleans has covered 13 in a row at the Superdome with Sean Payton as coach. Off an ugly loss to the Jets, expect Payton and quarterback Drew Brees to fire their best shot in a high-scoring game.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.