Bears look to increase NFC North lead with a second straight win over the Lions
This year's Thanksgiving Day football festivities get started with the Chicago Bears taking on the Detroit Lions in the Motor City. The Lions are one of the traditional holiday hosts and these longtime division rivals have played each other on Turkey Day nine times since 1964. Detroit holds a 5-4 lead in those games and has won the last three meetings on Thanksgiving Day. But this year finds both teams in different situations.
Chicago (7-3) assumed full control of the NFC North with last Sunday's home win over Minnesota on "Sunday Night Football." The Lions (4-6) are currently in the basement of the division but snapped a three-game losing streak with a come-from-behind win over Carolina at Ford Field.
The Bears can increase their lead in the division with a season sweep of Detroit. The two teams met just two weeks ago in Chicago, a game the home team won 34-22. The Lions need a victory if they want to keep their already slim playoff hopes alive.
Chicago at Detroit
Kickoff: Thursday Nov. 22 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Kahlil Mack is practically unstoppable
Mack continued to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks as he made his presence fully felt against the Vikings this past Sunday night. Mack added to his team-leading total with his eighth sack and he also was credited with two tackles, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits and a pass defended. Two weeks ago, he collected two sacks and five total tackles in Chicago's win over Detroit. You know Matthew Stafford will be looking to see where Mack lines up and the Lions' offensive linemen will be bracing for moves like this:
STANDARD. ð¤·âï¸ https://t.co/INeUBF1qfK— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 19, 2018
And the mere presence of Mack makes the rest of Chicago's defense that much more dangerous. Take Akiem Hicks, the unheralded anchor of the Bears' defensive line had a huge game against Minnesota, registering a sack and five tackles for a loss. The constant pressure generated by Hicks, Mack and the rest of the defense was a big reason why Kirk Cousins completed 30 of 46 attempts for 262 yards (5.7 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns but also two costly interceptions.
2. Matthew Stafford getting the job done under pressure
Feeling pressure is nothing new to Stafford, who has already been sacked 29 times this year. But he's still managed to find ways to make plays downfield. Over the last four games, Stafford is averaging 25 completions and more than 250 passing yards per game. He also has five touchdowns and three interceptions during this stretch. For the season, his 66.3 percent completion rate represents the second highest in his 10-year career.
Stafford already knows what to expect on Thursday from a Bears defense that sacked him six times and picked him off twice two weeks ago. The rest of the offense will have to pick up their game, starting up front with the offensive line, but the Lions also will most likely be without their leading rusher, Kerryon Johnson. The rookie suffered a knee sprain last week against Carolina and is considered week-to-week. He accounted for two of the Lions' three touchdowns in the first meeting with Chicago, so in his absence LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner will need to step up against a Chicago defense that's ranked third in the league overall and first against the run.
3. Turnovers a plenty for the Bears' defense
Not only has this Chicago team made its mark with its pass rush, the defense also has gotten back into the habit of making takeaways a regular occurrence. During this current four-game winning streak the Bears have forced six fumbles, recovered three of them and recorded seven interceptions. They have picked off two or more passes in three straight games and lead the NFL with 18 on the season. The defense also has made the most of some of these takeaways, including Eddie Jackson's 27-yard interception return for a touchdown against Minnesota this past Sunday. Chicago leads the league in total takeaways (27) and turnover margin (+13), two more reasons why the Bears currently sit atop the NFC North and have the third-best record in the conference.
Chicago enters this game on a roll, winners of four in a row, outscoring opponents 124-61 in the process. The Bears have been stingy against the run, have kept teams from scoring much at all against them and the offense continues to find ways to get the job done. Chicago has grabbed control of the NFC North and controls its own destiny as it relates to getting back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
Detroit has had more success at home this season (3-2, with wins over New England, Green Bay and Carolina) and has won five in a row against the Bears at Ford Field. Chicago, however, has all of the momentum on its side. It does appear that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky will miss this game because of a shoulder injury he suffered in the fourth quarter on Sunday night; but Chase Daniel was signed as the backup because of his familarity with head coach Matt Nagy's offense. And with how well the defense has been playing lately, it may not matter who is at quarterback for this one. This Bears team is for real and will show that yet again on Thanksgiving Day.
Prediction: Bears 24, 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.