The Bears finally ended their three-game losing streak when they beat the woeful Arizona Cardinals last week, and now, they will be facing the equally poor Detroit Lions to close out the season on Sunday.
The Lions are playing like a team already beaten. They look tired and uninspired, save for Calvin Johnson’s transcendent play that helped him break Jerry Rice's record for most receiving yards in a single season.
He’s chasing 2,000 receiving yards now, so the Lions will be fired up to help him go after that. But they don’t seem fired up for much else, and let’s be honest, Johnson pretty much does the heavy lifting on that front anyway.
However, the Bears cannot afford to take the Lions lightly if they want to make the playoffs. That is because as hard as it will be to make it into the playoffs even if they win this game—they would still need the Minnesota Vikings to lose as well—it will be absolutely impossible for them to do so if the Bears lose.
Defensively, Chicago got back on track against the Cardinals, with Tim Jennings and Charles “Peanut” Tillman generating turnovers and the front seven getting after the quarterback.
The offensive line for the Lions isn’t as bad as what Arizona rolls with, but it’s far from a gathering of Pro Bowlers.
So the Bears’ own Pro Bowlers on the defensive line—Henry Melton and Julius Peppers—should be able to get into the backfield and get in Matt Stafford’s face pretty easily.
Stafford has been off this year, both from a mechanics standpoint and in terms of his timing. He gets worse under pressure and has made some decisions that I'm sure have even made Mark Sanchez blush.
When the Bears get in the backfield—and they will—they’ll force mistakes. Then Jennings and Tillman will do their thing.
Of course, it’s likely that Johnson overcomes them enough to pass the 2,000-yard mark. Still, that won’t be enough for the Lions any more than it has been all season long. They can have Johnson hit his mark and still lose.
Offensively, the Bears are still struggling to get any real timing down. Brandon Marshall is ridiculously hard to stop, and he will continue to be dominant against a poor Detroit secondary. Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett should have good days as well.
Even though the offense has talent at wide receiver, they continue to struggle to move the ball. That should change against the Lions, who cannot match up to the Chicago receivers.
There is a question at running back as to who will play. We may not know if Matt Forte is available until just prior to game time, and if he’s gone, there won’t be much of a run game left.
On the positive side of things, Forte practiced Thursday, so there is still hope.
He’ll do everything that he can do in order to be on the field for this game because Chicago needs Forte. If he plays, the Bears will have to be careful with him, lest they make the playoffs and don’t have him.
Another person they'll be careful with is Jay Cutler, and that means the offensive line has to play very well.
The one thing the Lions defense can do is create pressure. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will be a handful and the Bears will have to focus on quick, three-step drops to keep the pressure off Cutler and keep him from being sacked, or even worse, hurt.
If they can hit Marshall, Bennett or Jeffery with some quick outs or slants, they should be able to overcome the pressure. But the Bears should still be cautious in order to avoid anyone else getting hurt.
Chicago should win this game easily, but very little has come easy for the Bears in the second half of the season.
They can’t let up in Week 17 if they want a shot at making the playoffs.
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