The Detroit Lions host the Chicago Bears this weekend with a chance to eliminate their division rival from the 2012 postseason.
The Bears (9-6) don't control their own fate, needing the Packers to beat the Vikings, but that becomes irrelevant if they can't win at Detroit. They ended a crippling three-game skid in Arizona last week, but after losing five of six, it might be too little too late.
The Lions (4-11), meanwhile, are playing for nothing but pride and schadenfreude. They've had no playoff incentive for weeks, but would surely revel in the chance the end the playoff hopes of Jay Cutler, Lovie Smith, et al.
Let's take a look at how it might play out:
When: Sunday, Dec. 30th, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
Watch: Fox (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Chicago -3 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
The Lions' seven-game losing streak has extended to the gambling sector. They've gone 1-6 ATS over that stretch, covering only by half-a-point against Houston on Thanksgiving Day.
On the season, only three of their losses have come by three points or fewer, including a deceptively lopsided 13-7 loss to the Bears in Chicago.
The Bears, on the other hand, have won their nine games by an average of 18 points. They've struggled in close contests, but when they win, they're capable of winning big.
With more motivation to perform, look for the Bears to exceed their three-point buffer.
Over/Under: 44.5 (via VegasInsider.com – LVH)
It's no secret: Chicago's defense has been markedly worse in the season's second half. But even so, the Bears are only allowing 19 points per game during their 2-5 run.
The Lions offense gets a lot of credit thanks to their record-breaking passing numbers. However, they haven't exceeded 20 points in any of their last three games.
Those two stats, combined with the Bears' always-capricious offense (ranked 22nd in the league by Football Outsiders), makes this number significantly too high.
Take the under with confidence.
Chicago Bears Injury Report (via USA Today – 12/27/12)
|CB Tim Jennings||Shoulder||Probable|
|S Chris Conte||Hamstring||Probable|
|RB Armando Allen||Knee||Questionable|
|CB Charles Tillman||Ribs||Questionable|
|RB Matt Forte||Ankle||Questionable|
|LB Blake Costanzo||Calf||Questionable|
|T Jonathan Scott||Hamstring||Questionable|
|DL Henry Melton||Chest||Questionable|
|LB Brian Urlacher||Hamstring||Questionable|
Detroit Lions Injury Report (via USA Today – 12/27/12)
|S Louis Delmas||Knee||Probable|
|WR Calvin Johnson||Knee||Probable|
|DT Sammie Lee Hill||Toe||Questionable|
|CB Chris Houston||Hamstring||Questionable|
|DE Ronnell Lewis||Knee||Questionable|
|TE Brandon Pettigrew||Ankle||Questionable|
|T Corey Hilliard||Knee||Questionable|
Fantasy Big Plays
Chicago Bears: WR Brandon Marshall
The Bears' Week 7 tilt with Detroit was a low-scoring slugfest. However, Brandon Marshall was still able to post a respectable, if not impressive fantasy line: six catches, 81 yards and a touchdown.
Calvin Johnson will be standing on the opposite sideline, threatening to break 2,000 receiving yards and thoroughly steal the spotlight.
Especially with Matt Forte banged up, Brandon Marshall, 2012's second-best receiver, won't let Johnson outshine him without putting a fight.
Detroit Lions: WR Calvin Johnson
I might have misspoke earlier when I said the Lions are playing for nothing but pride and schadenfreude. They're also playing for Johnson.
Megatron broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yard record last week, and now needs "just" 102 yards to surpass 2,000 on the season.
In trying to get him the record last weekend, Matt Stafford targeted Johnson 16 times, en route to 11 catches and 225 yards. It was the seventh straight game in which he's seen double-digit balls come his way.
At the very least, the Lions will do their best to help him reach this feat. One-hundred and two yards is a comfortable worst-case scenario.
Key to Victory
The Bears' Mental State
Were this game purely physical, the Bears wouldn't need a Week 17 win—and help—to make the playoffs. They're that good. What they have here is a mental block.
After last year's implosion, it's tempting for Jay Cutler and Co. to feel like the sky is falling once again. They righted the ship, at least temporarily, against the Cardinals last week, but the Lions present a much tougher challenge. This team can actually move the football.
If they come out timidly, playing not to lose, there's a good chance they do just that. If they come up with a vengeance, playing to win, the Lions don't have what it takes to stop them.
Jay Cutler in a must-win late-season game hardly inspires confidence. That's not an opinion; it's a historically supported fact.
But losing to a 4-11 team with the Bears' season on the line would be a new nadir—one Cutler has played well enough to avoid.
With the Lions probably caring more about Calvin Johnson's stat line than they do about the scoreboard, Chicago should coast to victory.
Predicted Score: Chicago 24, Detroit 13