A preview and breakdown of the matchup between the Bears and Lions on Dec. 30, 2012.
Bears offense vs. Lions defense
The high-powered offense that was supposed to lead the Bears this year just wasn’t meant to be as the Bears rank 28th with just one game to go. Despite having a Pro Bowl receiver, one of the best in the league, the Bears only average 183.6 passing yards per game, the fourth-lowest total in the league. Fortunately their run game has been quietly effective while ranking ninth in the league with 121.7 yards per game. The Bears will have to rely on a hobbled Matt Forte to help move the chains and complement the Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall connection through the air. The Lions defense ranks 15th against the run and 19th against the pass. Their secondary has holes in it which Cutler can exploit, but he’ll have to take care of the ball because the Lions rank 8th in the league with 16 interceptions. Safety Louis Delmas, the anchor of the secondary, is questionable with a knee injury. The Lions have strength up front along the defensive line. The combination of ends Cliff Avril (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (3.5) plus defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh (7) and Nick Fairley (5.5) have combined for 25.5 of the team’s 32 sacks. They can terrorize opposing quarterbacks and they often play dirty. Cutler was sacked five times the last time these teams met and was body slammed to the ground by Suh.
Bears defense vs. Lions offense
The Bears defense may have found a resurgence last week by scoring two defensive touchdowns, holding the Cardinals to 248 net yards, and setting up the Bears offense with short fields. But it’s hard to judge that performance considering how bad the Cardinals offense is. The Lions have explosive playmakers on offense in quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who needs just 108 receiving yards to become the first wide receiver in NFL history to reach 2,000 for a season. The Lions also have a playmaker at tight end in Brandon Pettigrew, but he’s doubtful for the game with an ankle injury. The Bears will have to be mindful of the Lions’ backfield duo of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. Leshoure is only averaging 3.7 yards per attempt and the Lions as an offense rank just 23rd in rushing yards. But Bell is a threat as both a runner and a receiver. He averages 5.1 yards per carry and is third on the team with 50 receptions for 466 yards. On defense, the Bears will be missing Chris Conte at safety but will likely have their Pro Bowl tandem of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings back together at cornerback. They’ll need all the help they can get against the Lions’ top-ranked passing offense. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton is questionable with a chest injury and that’ll adversely affect the Bears’ pass rush, which is an aspect of the game that will be key to deciding the outcome.
The Lions special teams are ranked No. 30 by Football Outsiders whereas the Bears are in the Top 5 where they belong. This phase could play a big difference for the Bears in winning the game if they can help with field position. This game will feature a pair of old kickers in 42-year-old Jason Hanson of the Lions and 39-year-old Olindo Mare of the Bears. This figures to be a close game which could come down to one of their tired old legs. Hanson ranks fourth in the league with 31 converted field goals on 35 attempts. He has a long of 53. Lions punter Nick Harris is ranked 30th in net punting average with just 37.2 yards per punt. The Bears’ Adam Podlesh is ranked 20th averaging 39.4 yards per punt. Podlesh ranks fourth in the league with 30 punts downed inside the 20. Harris is ranked 28th with just 19. Lions kick returner Stefan Logan ranks just 22nd in the league with 21.3 yards per return whereas Devin Hester is 7th with 26.8 yards per return. Logan bests Hester by 0.3 yards per punt return, though. The Bears’ coverage ability sets these two units apart.
I don’t have a strong feeling about this game. I’ll get that out on the table right now. This has the feeling of 2008 written all over it. Back then, the Bears went on the road in a dome against a team with a good quarterback-receiver combo in Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Schaub threw for 328 yards while Johnson caught 10 passes for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bears needed to win that game in order to get into the playoffs but could not do it. Does that situation sound familiar? This time around, the Bears travel to play in Detroit’s dome and face an even more lethal passing combination of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The Bears have a better defense this time around and they probably have more on the line in terms of emotions in a divisional game with Lovie Smith’s job on the line. The matchups don’t look good in this game, either. The Bears offense is inconsistent and lacks firepower outside of Marshall. The Lions offense has been red hot in the passing game. But somehow, some way, I see the Bears pulling off the victory. Whether it be a defensive takeaway that sets the Bears offense up with a short field, or the defensive getting gashed by the Lions passing attack but holding them to field goals instead of touchdowns, or maybe even a special teams play or two that swings the momentum in the game, I have this feeling that the Bears will prevail and then turn their attention to the late afternoon game between the Vikings and Packers to see if they get into the postseason.
Final Score: Chicago 24, Detroit 20