Is it Monday yet?
The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions may not present the best—or even closest—matchup on paper, but no one has ever been able to say these division rivals aren't exciting.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know about this must-watch Monday Night Football battle.
When: Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 93
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread: Chicago (-6), according to Covers
Lions Injuries (via ESPN)
DT Corey Williams, Knee, Questionable
RB Jahvid Best, Head, Out
LB Stephen Tulloch, Knee, Probable
S Louis Delmas, Knee, Probable
CB Jacob Lacey, Head, Questionable
Bears Injuries (via ESPN)
WR Earl Bennett, Hand, Questionable
What's At Stake?
It's still early, but if the Lions, who earned a wild-card spot at 10-6 last season, have any aspirations of making the postseason for a second straight year, they can't afford to keep losing. Not only do they sit at 2-3 at the bottom of a suddenly stacked NFC North division, but also the entire NFC—except for the South of course—looks like a legitimate wild-card threat.
Finally, with Houston, Seattle and Atlanta waiting on Detroit's out-of-conference schedule, the Lions look to be in trouble if they don't put together a winning streak soon.
Chicago, on the other hand, is currently the king of the North. But with Minnesota looking vastly improved and Green Bay looking like Green Bay again, the Bears can ill afford to take their foot off the gas pedal, especially in a game in which they are heavily favored at home.
Stay away: Titus Young, Devin Hester, Kellen Davis
Lions Player to Watch: Calvin Johnson, WR
I never knew it was possible for someone averaging 5.8 receptions and 93 yards per game to be seen as a disappointment, but thus is the power of Megatron.
Johnson has seen 55 targets in 2012, but thanks to double-, triple- and probably more accurately, octuple-teams, he's only been able to pull in 64 percent of the balls thrown his way. Even more crushing for fantasy owners, he has only found the end zone once after averaging 14 touchdowns per season over the last two years.
With Matt Stafford and the struggling Lions offense forced to head to Soldier Field to take on a Bears defense that is arguably the best in the NFL, things may get worse before they get better for this Transformer.
Nonetheless, the smart money will always be on the uber-talented Johnson, especially on the big stage against a team that he absolutely torched (211 yards, one touchdown) in 2011.
Bears Player to Watch: Matt Forte, RB
Get this: Despite playing through a pesky injury for half of his games, Forte is averaging 5.53 yards per touch, which is just barely below the 5.83 he averaged during last year's breakout half-season.
Now that the Bears are coming off a bye week and Forte continues to inch closer to 100 percent health, expect the do-it-all RB to continue to put up gaudy numbers.
Additionally, the Bears offense tends to struggle when he doesn't touch the ball. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall have the potential to combine for big play after big play, but let us not forget that Jay Cutler is, in fact, Jay Cutler.
The inconsistency, along with a shaky pass-blocking offensive line, is hard to get past.
Don't get it wrong: This offense goes as Matt Forte goes.
What They're Saying
Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune has more on what should be a big game for Forte:
To say Matt Forte has enjoyed success against the Detroit Lions would be an understatement.
In eight career games versus the NFC North foe, the Chicago Bears running back has rushed for 678 yards on 135 carries, averaging 5 yards per carry. He also has four rushing touchdowns against the Lions.
That doesn’t mean Forte will take them lightly come Monday night, particularly against a solid front seven. He anticipates a physical game.
"It's football. It's supposed to be physical," Forte said. "Nobody is out there playing patty-cake, so if somebody is going to be physical on the other side of the ball, obviously on your side of the ball you want to be physical right back."
The Lions defense often gets criticized, but it is quietly giving up just 3.7 yards per rush (10th least in the NFL). Forte will be undoubtedly be involved a lot, but this might be a game where he is utilized more as a receiver out of the backfield.
Key Matchup: Matthew Stafford vs. Bears D
The Lions have an underrated defense (ninth in the NFL in yards allowed per game and 13th in yards allowed per play), but as long as the good Jay Cutler shows up on Monday night—a fairly large "if," mind you—the Bears will be able to move the ball.
If Detroit wants to keep up, Matthew Stafford has a tall task in front of him. Not only is Chicago coming off a bye and is playing at home, but it also boasts the league's No. 2 pass defense and No. 4 pass rush.
Stafford, meanwhile, has been able to move the ball, but he's having trouble finding the end zone and is throwing an interception per game. Couple that with the Bears defense, which is first in the NFL in picks, and it could be a long night for Stafford.
If both Stafford and the Bears defense continue their season-long trends on Monday night, this one will be ugly in a hurry. If Stafford plays like the 2011 Stafford, this will be a battle.
Both teams are led by quarterbacks who, while possessing the potential for monstrous, dominant performances, are quite erratic and have a propensity to turn the ball over at will. That will keep this one competitive.
But in the end, it's hard to go against the team with the better—by a healthy margin—defense and home-field advantage.
Bears 30, Lions 17