This NFC North rivalry has been controlled by the Bears lately.
Two divisional foes with drastically different 2012 results will meet on Monday Night Football, when the Chicago Bears host the Detroit Lions at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. Lovie Smith’s Chicago crew has jumped out to a 4-1 start, outscoring its opponents by 78 points. Meanwhile, the last-place Lions are 2-3 and have looked nothing like the playoff team of a year ago.
When the Detroit Lions have the ball:
Quarterback Matthew Stafford had an amazing season in 2011, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. However the 2012 campaign has been somewhat of a struggle for the Lions signal caller, as he has more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4). The Detroit offense did show some positive signs last week in Philadelphia, as Stafford had a fourth-quarter touchdown run and pass to the lead the Lions back from a double-digit deficit to an overtime victory. All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson (35 catches for 558 yards and one score) is always the top Detroit threat, and the Lions will lean on running back Mikel Leshoure to balance out the offense.
The Bears defense has simply been stellar through five games, ranking No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed (14.2 ppg). Chicago has excelled against the run and in creating turnovers, topping the league in those categories as well. The Bears have also turned the takeaways into points, already scoring an amazing five times this season. The focus on Monday night will be to limit Johnson’s impact, whiles also pressuring Stafford into more mistakes and interceptions.
When the Chicago Bears have the ball:
The Chicago attack has not been overwhelming this season, but it has not had to be with a dominant defense. With the exception of the Green Bay loss when they could not control the Packers pass rush, the Bears have been fairly solid under quarterback Jay Cutler. He has thrown for two touchdowns in three of the four Chicago wins, with Brandon Marshall (35 catches for 496 yards and three scores) getting the most targets by far. The Bears also got a lift from running back Matt Forte in their last game, as he compiled the team’s first 100-yard rushing performance of the year.
Detroit ranks ninth in the league in total defense, allowing 324 yards per game. However, the team is giving up over 27 points per contest. One of the Lions biggest problems this year has been special teams, with opponents scoring four times on return touchdowns. Another issue has been a lack of takeaways, as Detroit defenders have only caused six turnovers in five games. To beat the Bears, the Lions will need to stop Forte on the ground and pressure Cutler into giving the ball away.
This NFC North battle should come down to turnovers, which favors Chicago. If the Bears protect the ball, they will be tough to beat in front of a raucous Soldier Field crowd. The Lions will need to force Cutler into mistakes, while also getting a big-time performance from Stafford. Look for the Bears to continue their excellent MNF play under Smith, and stay atop the division.
Bears 27 Lions 20
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)