DETROIT LIONS (5-4) AT CHICAGO BEARS (3-6)
SERIES HISTORY: 175th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 97-72-5. It has been 15 years, but one memorable matchup between these two teams came in 2002, when the Bears won 20-17 after Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg took the wind rather than the ball to start overtime. The Bears, of course, scored on the first possession of the extra period, and Mornhinweg was fired after the season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions face a mobile rookie quarterback for the second straight week, and their goal is to make him and the Bears' offense one-dimensional. That means stopping the running game above all else, and that means the focus will be on Jordan Howard. In two games against the Lions last year, Howard rushed for 197 yards. If he has another big game, the Bears could be primed for the upset.
Offensively, the Lions should have an opportunity to push the ball downfield as long as they can protect Matthew Stafford. The Bears have given up six plays of 40-plus yards this season, and the Lions will have their full complement of offensive weapons with Kenny Golladay back to join Marvin Jones and Golden Tate at wide receiver.
The Bears last week started out trying to run the ball against Green Bay, but failed and consequently put more pressure on Mitchell Trubisky to pass. They should have come out passing. This week they need the same game plan they had last week.
Since Detroit lost Haloti Ngata to injured reserve, they are giving up 136.8 yards a game on the ground. They were allowing only 74.6 on the ground when he played. It's easier for defenses to defend against the Bears' zone blocking scheme with Howard running because they know the Bears are going to do it, but Detroit appears unable to stop any ground attack.
Defensively, it's best to mix up coverages and play it safe against Stafford. He has the arm and ability to move around and burn blitzers. It's a game to let the regular pass rushers work for pressure and force Stafford into turnovers. The Lions will try to run early in the game to give the defense something to think about, but they'll never be serious about it, and the emphasis must be on getting to Stafford with four men while defending the pass with man to man.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bears WR Dontrelle Inman vs. Lions CB Darius Slay. Inman made an immediate impact and will need to continue sharpening his connection with Mitchell Trubisky. In cuts, slants and posts were Inman's best routes last week, and the Bears need him to get downfield for back-shoulder passes or the deep ball. Slay is having a second straight outstanding season for a Lions pass defense that has yielded yardage but not necessarily points. At 6 feet, Slay is a size matchup for 6-3 Inman.
--Lions RT Rick Wagner vs. Bears OLB Leonard Floyd. Wagner, the Lions' top free-agent addition of the offseason, has steadied himself after a rough start, and he appears to be healthy after dealing with an ankle injury much of October. He'll face a stern test in Floyd, the second-year linebacker who's the Bears' best pass rusher. The Lions have allowed entirely too many hits on quarterback Matthew Stafford this year. They'll be extra careful with Akiem Hicks inside, so Floyd should have one-on-one matchups much of the day.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Lions DE Cornelius Washington. The Lions signed two defensive linemen at the start of free agency in March, Washington and tackle Akeem Spence. Spence moved into the starting lineup after Haloti Ngata's season-ending bicep injury, while Washington has played mostly as a backup this season. Washington got his first two sacks of the year last week against the Browns, and he ranks second on the team behind Anthony Zettel with eight quarterback hits. Washington has been a better run defender than pass rusher so far, and he fell in the doghouse and was inactive for a game last month against the New Orleans Saints. But, with Ziggy Ansah nursing a back injury, he could make his second straight start Sunday.
FAST FACTS: Lions QB Matthew Stafford ranks fourth in the NFL with 2,461 passing yards. In the past three games, he has 1,033 yards (344.3 per game), five TDs and one interception. He has 917 passing yards (305.7 per game), four TDs and one interception in the past three games against division rivals. ... RB Ameer Abdullah aims for his third game in a row with a rushing TD. He has 166 scrimmage yards (83 per game) and two rushing TDs in the past two games against division foes. ... DE Ezekiel Ansah has five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the past six games on the road. ... Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky passed for a career-high 297 yards and a TD in Week 10. He aims for his third game in a row at home with a 95-plus passer rating. ... RB Jordan Howard had 110 scrimmage yards (86 rushing) in the last meeting. He had 111 rushing yards in the last home meeting. In 13 career home games, he has 1,317 scrimmage yards (101.3 per game) and nine rushing TDs. Since entering the NFL in 2016, he ranks third with 2,029 rushing yards. ... DE Akiem Hicks aims for his third game in a row against Detroit with a sack. He has five sacks in his past five games.
PREDICTION: Big game for the Lions, who are trying to stack wins and earn a second straight trip to the postseason. The Bears have gotten pretty decent play from Trubisky as he gains valuable on-the-job training, but they seem to do just enough to lose close games, as they'll do again Sunday.
OUR PICK: Lions, 20-17.