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Thanksgiving Day: Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions Prediction and Preview

Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions Prediction and Preview

Longtime division rivals meet for the 19th time on Thanksgiving with both the Bears and Lions hungry for a win

The NFL's traditional Thanksgiving tripleheader gets started with a classic matchup from the "Black and Blue" division, as the Detroit Lions welcome the Chicago Bears to Ford Field.

The Lions (0-9-1) are still searching for their first win of 2021, but they've given their last two opponents fits, including a tie of the Steelers in Week 10 to end their 12-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Bears (3-7) endured yet another fourth-quarter letdown last week, this time against a Ravens team without Lamar Jackson. 

Chicago looks to snap a five-game losing streak against an opponent they've already defeated this season (24-14 in Week 4), while Detroit looks for the upset in order to add to the Bears' woes. 

Thanksgiving Day: Chicago (3-7) at Detroit (0-9-1)

Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 25 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears-3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Dalton jump-start this offense?
On Tuesday, head coach Matt Nagy confirmed what pretty much everyone was expecting. Andy Dalton will get the start on Thursday with Justin Fields injured.

Fields had completed just four of 11 passes for 79 yards (with 23 rushing yards) last week against Baltimore, before being pulled a little over midway through the third quarter due to a rib injury. Further testing revealed bruised, not broken ribs, but the injury combined with the short turnaround resulted in the Bears giving Dalton the start. Nagy said that Fields won't be active on Thursday, meaning Nick Foles will serve as Dalton's backup.

Dalton certainly hit the ground running when he took over for Fields this past Sunday. In his first action since Week 5, the 11-year veteran went 11-of-23 for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He was a big reason why Chicago had a chance to defeat Baltimore, as he staked the team to a 13-9 lead with 1:41 left in the game.

After doing very little on offense with Fields at the control, Dalton connected with tight end Jimmy Graham for a 23-yard completion on his first snap and followed that up with a screen pass to Darnell Mooney that resulted in a 60-yard touchdown and gave the Bears a 7-6 lead. His second touchdown was a 49-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin late in the fourth quarter. Nagy opted to go for two (after a roughing the pass penalty was called on the Ravens), but Dalton's pass went incomplete.

Unfortunately, Chicago's defense could not protect the late lead, as Baltimore backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, starting for Jackson (illness), marched the Ravens 72 yards in five plays (with a penalty by each team mixed in) for the game-winning touchdown with just 22 seconds remaining.

The Bears' lackluster, late-game defense otherwise ruined what would have been an impressive relief performance by Dalton. Not surprisingly, some fans after the game were pushing for him to be made the starter over Fields, regardless of the rookie's injury status. Nagy did say that he's hopeful Fields will be healthy enough to start against Arizona in Week 13. 

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With Dalton at the helm, he will be tasked with finding a way to get more production out of an offense that ranks second to last in the NFL in yards per game (287.9) and last in passing offense (155.8 ypg). The Bears are averaging just 16.3 points per game (29th), although they have had some success running the ball (132.1 ypg, sixth). That was the key to success in the first meeting with the Lions, as David Montgomery ran for 106 yards and two touchdowns. That's also the game he injured his knee, which landed him on short-term IR and caused him to miss four weeks.

2. The Lions won't go away quietly
Over the last two games, the NFL's worst team has surprised everyone. Two weeks ago, they forced the Steelers into overtime and wound up with a tie after losing their first eight games of the season. Last week, the Lions outscored the Browns 10-0 in the second half and almost pulled off the road upset. Now they look to put those performances together to finally eat that elusive first "W" of the season.

Detroit also has some injury issues at quarterback. Jared Goff missed last week's game because of an oblique injury with Tim Boyle starting in his place. On Tuesday, head coach Dan Campbell said that Goff was making progress and that the team is "leaning toward" starting him.

Regardless of who starts under center on Thanksgiving, it's not like the passing game has been lighting it up lately. Goff and Boyle have combined for 191 passing yards (154 net) with no touchdowns and two picks (both by Boyle) over the last two games. If not for the ground game, the Lions wouldn't have been competitive against the Steelers or the Browns. D'Andre Swift has racked up 266 yards on 47 carries these last two games. He averaged nearly 10 yards per rushing attempt last Sunday in Cleveland. But despite that production (and contributions from a couple of others), Detroit has managed a total of 26 points over its last two games, one of which included an extra period.

The lack of offense spoiled back-to-back somewhat solid performances by the Lions' defense. While the Steelers and Browns both went over 130 rushing yards on Detroit, the defense limited the damage on the scoreboard (3 total TDs, 3 FGs) and also generated a total of five takeaways in those two games. They were especially stingy in the second half of both games, surrendering a total of six points.

So now, the Lions will look for a more balanced performance from both sides of the ball at home against a familiar foe. This is certainly not a vintage Bears defense, as the team ranks 23rd against the run (122.8 ypg) and is giving up 343.9 yards (11th) and 24.0 points (19th) per game. Chicago is tied for the league lead with 31 sacks, including six last week, but is without Khalil Mack for the rest of the season and has dealt with numerous other injuries on defense.

But even with Swift's recent explosion, Detroit ranks 16th in rushing offense (114.2 ypg) and is just as bad as the Bears when it comes to throwing the ball (197.8 ypg, 30th) and scoring (16.0 ppg, 30th). And while Detroit's defense has fared better in recent weeks the overall body of work shows a team that can be run on (140.5 ypg allowed, 31st) and will give up points (27.3 ppg, 30th). This game could come down to which offense gets its act together or which defense dominates the proceedings.

3. Thanksgiving spotlight
As the original Thanksgiving host, Detroit has certainly played its share of games on the holiday. The Lions are 37-42-2 on Turkey Day and have lost their last four matchups. Still, that's a better record than their 539-674-27 mark since they first began playing on Thanksgiving in 1934.

Chicago is no stranger to playing on Thanksgiving either. This will be the Bears' 37th such appearance, which will break a tie with Green Bay for the most by a non-traditional host team (Dallas is the other). Chicago is 19-15-2, with the most recent appearance coming in 2019, a 24-20 victory over, you guessed it, Detroit. The Bears also hold a 10-8 edge over their longtime divisional rivals in their Thanksgiving Day matchups.

Final Analysis

Putting the holiday factors aside, Chicago has won six of the past seven meetings with Detroit, including their Week 4 encounter at Soldier Field. Neither offense has been lighting it up this season, so points could be hard to come by, or they could be bountiful as both defenses have had their share of lapses. This game may come down to which team controls the line of scrimmage and is most effective running the ball. The Bears have better statistics in that respect and are arguably just a couple of plays away from being a .500 team. The Lions have played better lately but still have yet to win a game. Chicago's losing streak is longer but its ground game and pass rush will be enough to eke out a much-needed win on Turkey Day.

Prediction: Bears 17, Lions 14

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who 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.