The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears face off on Monday night in Chicago in what could be a season-defining game for both teams.
The Lions (2-3) have faced a lot of early-season tests and are flunking the class right now. This was supposed to be a season in which the Lions took a step forward, but right now, they look like they're treading water. The offense doesn't look explosive, and the defense looks like it belongs in the Big Ten. They alternate between being overmatched and shooting themselves in the foot.
If there is a bright side for the Lions, their talent level is clearly better than their play so far, and they've eked wins against the Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams while playing as poorly as possible. They've also had a rough schedule, losing in close games to the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings.
The Bears (4-1) haven't really been tested in the same way. Besides a loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Bears have wins against the Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams, Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars—a group of teams that are a collective 10-15 on the season.
With an offense searching for its identity, the Bears defense has done most of the heavy lifting this season and quite a bit of the scoring as well. Chicago will look for a more balanced effort against a banged-up and talent-starved Lions secondary.
So, who wins on Monday night?
Key Storyline No. 1: Are Either of These Guys Franchise Quarterbacks?
Both the Lions and the Bears came into the 2012 season without any question marks under center. Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler are both widely considered good young quarterbacks. Sure, they have off days, and sure, both could use more protection, but neither is going anywhere.
Going into Week 7, they rank (by passer rating) 24th and 25th in the league. Neither has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions, and Cutler isn't even completing over 60 percent of his passes.
This game alone isn't going to change the season-long narrative of either of these guys, but it could go a long way in getting either back on the right track.
Key Storyline No. 2: Do the Lions Have ANY Self Control?
One of the Lions' talking points over the offseason was cleaning up their penalty problems and their bad-boy image. As more and more Lions were arrested and pulled over, the team tried to convince fans and the national media that these were all speed bumps toward a championship and that off-field issues wouldn't translate to on-field losses of composure.
The Lions' 16 penalties last week against Philadelphia should have cost them the game. These aren't just encroachment penalties caused by trying to get an edge in the pass rush. False starts belie a lack of discipline, and personal fouls show immaturity.
This is not a team that looks ready (or properly coached) to win very many football games.
Keys for the Detroit Lions on Offense
Ball control...it's just that simple.
The Lions offensive line has been better than advertised all season long, but the Chicago pass rush will still get to Stafford early and often. For much of this season, Stafford's accuracy (under pressure or not) has been a giant question mark. The Lions have lived and died by the big play, and that trend could kill them on Monday night.
Stafford has all of the tools necessary to move the ball down the field with intermediate passes. Look for Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew to be involved early and Mikel Leshoure to have an expanded role in the pass game.
Keys for the Chicago Bears on Offense
Much like the Lions, the Bears will ultimately rely on their ability to keep Cutler upright and move the ball down the field. However, unlike the Lions, the Bears get to pass against one of the worst secondaries in the league.
Getting Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte going after the catch will be important. Cutler in seven-step drops will probably result in a lot of pressures, but three- to five-step drops and a load of yards after the catch will keep the Lions on their heels.
It's also important to keep the Lions guessing.
While the Lions' run defense is (surprisingly) better than expected in 2012, the Bears have the talent to move the ball on the ground. A balanced attack will ultimately mean success for Cutler.
Keys for the Detroit Lions on Defense
Seriously, the Lions (even with their injuries) have not been as horrible as people think on the defensive side of the ball, and much of that has been predicated upon improved linebacker play.
As much as the Lions are built around a stout front and lack a competent secondary, this team goes as Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant go. If those two are on (especially in coverage), the Lions can stop just about anyone.
Chris Houston has been one of the best players no one is talking about. He'll have his hands full, but he'll need to stop Brandon Marshall without much help. He doesn't have to lock Marshall down, he just needs to keep the ball out of his hands long enough for the Lions to apply pressure.
Keys for the Chicago Bears on Defense
The Bears can end this one early by rattling Matt Stafford and confusing him with a few complex coverages on Calvin Johnson.
It sounds crazy, yes, but the Bears have to make Stafford beat them. It isn't like he can't—it's just that he isn't doing it with regularity so far this season. He's thrown enough errant balls that Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings should be licking their chops in this one.
They also have to continue to capitalize. The Bears offense isn't going to outscore the Lions on its own. A defensive touchdown (or two, again) from the Bears will go a long way toward keeping the Lions down in the NFC North.
Bold Prediction No. 1: The Teams Will Combine For Five Turnovers
OK, maybe this isn't that bold, but consider that the Lions haven't been a takeaway machine in 2012. On Monday night, however, they have a chance.
Look for a sloppy first half and a few passes landing in the mitts of defensive backs. Both of these quarterbacks (and teams in general) take some time to settle in, and both defenses will look to take advantage of that.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Jason Campbell Will Finish the Game
This one is a little more bold, but not if one has spent any time watching the Bears offensive line play this season.
The Lions defensive front looked like it had something to prove against Philadelphia, and Michael Vick got hit hard. Cutler has to have his head on a swivel against a group of guys that will be looking to take it off.
It might not be the most legal of hits, but strength meets weakness and the Lions will send Cutler to the sideline.
Player of the Game Prediction: Calvin Johnson
No Lions-Bears matchup would be the same without a "complete the process" reference, so my pick for player of the game is Johnson in a bit of a "revenge" game at Soldier Field.
He'll need to be at his best, whichever fantastic Bears defensive back is on him, but let's not pretend he's not physically talented enough to do it.
Final Score Prediction: Detroit Lions 27, Chicago Bears 24
I'm going against the grain for the second straight week by picking the Lions to win against a team no one thinks they can touch. Both fanbases seem ready for a letdown this week, and this game will come down to which team makes less mistakes or capitalizes on its opponent's mistakes better.
Call it a homer pick if you want, but in the end, I think that team will be the Lions.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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