There are only five weeks left in the 2020 NFL regular season. And considering how the coronavirus continues to impact the league on a daily basis, this is a very good thing. This Sunday will feature another tough NFC North matchup as the Chicago Bears (5-6) return home to face the Detroit Lions (4-7). Both teams head into this game with the Thanksgiving holiday blues.
The Bears have lost five consecutive games, the most recent being a nationally televised, 16-point pasting in Green Bay last Sunday night. The Lions come into this one losing four of their last five. And after giving up 41 points in their Thanksgiving Day loss to the Houston Texas, the Lions fired head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn. Detroit is starting over while Chicago looks to salvage what was a promising start to this season.
Detroit at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The Lions are back to square one
It's back to the drawing board in Detroit after head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn were relieved of their duties after last week's loss to Houston. Patricia was 13-29-1 as the Lions head coach, and he just wasn't able to carry over the energy and excitement from New England where he was previously the defensive coordinator. Under Quinn's watch, the Lions posted a 31-43-1 record. Some of his decisions were questioned, including the removal of Jim Caldwell as head coach before hiring Patricia. The Lions had just one playoff appearance during Quinn's tenure (2016), and the team hasn't posted a winning record since '17, which was Caldwell's final season.
Needless to say, there will be plenty of evaluation over these final weeks of the season. The good thing for the Lions is that they already have important pieces on the team moving forward. Quarterback Matthew Stafford continues to be one of the more consistent signal-callers in the NFL. Currently, he ranks in the top 15 in both passing yards (2,876), and touchdown passes (18), he's completing 63.2 percent of his throws, averages 7.5 yards per attempt, and has a 92.7 passer rating. One downside is that he's taken 31 sacks.
Stafford's favorite receivers are wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, and Marvin Hall, along with tight end T.J. Hockenson. They have combined for 153 receptions for 2,072 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Golladay has missed the past couple of games with a hip injury and has yet to return to practice, so he's probably not going to be able to play on Sunday. The running game is still a work in progress (96.6 ypg), but rookie D'Andre Swift has shown flashes of brilliance while sharing the workload with veterans Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson. Swift's status for this game is unknown. He missed the past two games because of a concussion and while he is no longer in the protocol he has missed practice time this week because of an illness, but it's not believed to be COVID-19-related.
Swift's availability aside, Detroit's offensive line has been an issue for both the running and passing games. In addition to Stafford being sacked 31 times, he's been hit a total of 71 times, and the Lions are barely averaging four yards per carry. The defense also has struggled all season, currently 29th in the league in total yards allowed per game (396.2), 26th against the pass (262.8 ypg), 28th against the run (133.4 ypg), and only Dallas is giving up more points per contest at 29.8. Interim head coach Darrell Bevell, and the rest of this team, will be under the thinnest of microscopes over these last five games.
2. Bad News Bears
After a 5-1 start, Chicago has lost five in a row. The offensive line continues to struggle, the injuries continue to mount, and the Bears' playoff hopes are slipping away. During this losing streak, they have been outscored 134-88. The offense has managed 363 rushing yards (3.1 ypc) and there's been just one 300-yard passing performance (Week 9 at Tennessee) in the same span. Quarterbacks have been sacked 17 times, and this unit has committed 10 turnovers in the last five games alone as well.
As for the defense, the normally solid unit has started to show cracks of its own due in part to being on the field so long because of the offense's prolonged ineptitude. Teams are having more success moving the ball and putting points on the scoreboard as the pass rush (6 sacks, 19 QB hits) and turnovers (three) have dwindled during this losing streak. For the season, Chicago is tied for 13th overall (344.9 ypg), ranks 11th against the pass (223.7 ypg), and 20th vs. the run (121.2 ypg). This after the Bears finished last season in the top 10 of all three categories. They are still a top-10 scoring defense (22.7 ppg, seventh).
Last Sunday night saw the return of Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. Nick Foles was unable to play because of the hip pointer he sustained at the end of the Minnesota game. Against Green Bay, Trubisky threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns, but he also tossed a pair of costly interceptions, took three sacks, and fumbled three times. He only lost one, but that was returned for a touchdown that staked the Packers to a 24-point lead with a little more than three minutes to go before halftime. Overall, it was another up-and-down performance from the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Defensive end Akiem Hicks also missed the Green Bay game because of a hamstring injury he suffered in the Week 10 loss to Minnesota. The Packers took full advantage of his absence in the middle of the defensive line, pounding the Bears for 182 rushing yards on 39 carries (4.7 ypc). Both Foles and Hicks returned to practice this week, but head coach Matt Nagy has already said Trubisky will get another start and it's not known yet if Hicks will be able to play.
Another potential injury concern is with Khalil Mack, who missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with what is listed as a back injury. He has appeared on the injury report a few times this season, but he's yet to miss a game. His health issues could explain his somewhat pedestrian numbers (36 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 11 TFLs, 2 pass deflections, INT). Playing without Hicks is hard enough, but the Bears can't afford to be without Hicks and Mack at the same time.
3. The battle to stay OUT of last place
At the moment, the Bears are just one game ahead of the Lions. A win for Chicago will not only get them back to the .500 mark, but it also put them two games ahead of Detroit, and could even put them in second place should the Vikings lose to the Jaguars on Sunday. The Bears are still in the hunt for a wild-card berth but first need to put an end to this losing streak. They have won five in a row against the Lions and a sixth straight victory would do them a world of good. It also would not help embattled head coach Matt Nagy whatsoever for his team to lose its sixth straight game to a team that just fired its head coach and GM.
Historically, Chicago has had the upper hand against Detroit, leading the all-time series 102-74-5. More importantly, the Bears have won five in a row against the Lions, including a 27-23 victory in Detroit to open this season. Both teams have their issues, but Chicago should be able to take advantage of the Lions' woes to put an end to their five-game losing streak with a narrow win at home.
Prediction: Bears 23, Lions 21
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of chicagobears.com)