MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
QB Jay Cutler vs. Lions' Defensive Line
Cutler has been carving up defenses the past four weeks, and he'll attempt to do the same Sunday. However, prior to the Tom Brady-induced Thanksgiving Day massacre, Detroit has been capable of keeping opposing offenses modest. Chicago's strategy with the ball remains one predicated on giving Cutler time, so the math is relatively simple: get to Cutler before he gets the ball out. That job will belong to Detroit's front four, led by Ndamukong Suh.
WR Johnny Knox vs. CBs Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith
Rather quietly, Knox is 17th in the NFL with 740 receiving yards, just 66 fewer than "Megatron" in Detroit, and his average of 18.5 yards per catch is eighth among players with at least 20 receptions this year. The Bears don't really have a primary target and prefer to spread the ball around liberally, as five players have anywhere between 29 and 40 grabs in 2010, but Knox has been Chicago's most consistent pass catcher and brings some serious speed to the table in the open field. While the Lions like what they have in Houston and Smith, this team has been bad in the secondary for quite some time and has already given up nine pass plays of 40-plus yards – only the Texans (14) and Jaguars (11) have surrendered more.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON DEFENSE
Bears' Pass Rush vs. QB Drew Stanton
This game will be decided fairly quickly if Stanton, Detroit's third stringer, has difficulty handling Chicago's pass rush – and how he responds to it. Stanton was solid in his brief appearance against the Giants (222 yards), so he can move the football. Should Julius Peppers and Co. rattle the former Big Ten standout, however, Chicago will control the tempo and ultimately the scoreboard from the first quarter.
CBs Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings vs. WR Calvin Johnson
Stanton is going to need all the help he can get, and the one way he can keep the Lions in this ballgame is to deliver a few lightning-strike plays down the field to one of the worst matchup nightmares in the league. Johnson is having a monster season despite having to receive passes from three different QBs, recording 59 catches for 806 yards and 11 touchdowns, and his 6-5, 236-pound frame towers over Tillman (6-1, 198) and Jennings (5-8, 185). Chicago has been playing as much Cover 2 as ever this year, meaning the three-man safety rotation of Chris Harris, Danieal Manning and rookie Major Wright will see its fair share of Johnson, too.
WR Calvin Johnson
THE LIONS WIN IF...
... Stanton's savvy play from the exhibition season is able to translate into when it counts. Stanton is an enigma to both the organization and its fans. A former second-round pick and local hero, his credibility understandably plummets when fans realize he was a Matt Millen pick. But that doesn't mean he can't play. Stanton is a playmaker that the Lions need to just be effective to win. He's a gambler that can't turn the ball over. He's a player whose career hinges on his performance this season, which begins Sunday. If he hits a home run, the Lions will win.
THE BEARS WIN IF...
... they take the Lions as seriously as they should and don't get caught looking ahead at the final four contests on their schedule. Plainly speaking, Chicago is much a better football team than it was in September and Detroit is a much worse football team than it was in September, so there is no reason to think the 2-9 Motor City Kitties can beat the 8-3 Monsters of the Midway now with all the injuries they're dealing with and another season going straight down the drain. "Trap game" has been the buzz term at Halas Hall this week since the Bears finish with the Patriots at home, Vikings on the road, Jets at home and Packers on the road, so they can't afford to have a letdown at Ford Field.
THE LIONS LOSE IF...
... Stanton simply crumbles under the pressure. Detroit's offense requires that the quarterback remains effective, not necessarily brilliant. However, Chicago's defense harassed even Michael Vick into mistakes, confiscating a win from the Eagles. The nimble Stanton was once called "Michael Vick with a broken leg" by his college coach. It will take an impressive effort from not only Stanton, but Detroit's offensive line, to keep this game competitive. But if they don't have a QB to find those impressive targets in Johnson, Nate Burleson and others, winning becomes obsolete.
THE BEARS LOSE IF...
... Martz reverts back to the pass-happy offensive coordinator he was earlier in the season and abandons the running game. While the Lions haven't been a particularly good defensive team in recent memory, their front four has been pretty effective most of the year and Suh is unquestionably the real deal in the middle. They'll be hurt by the loss of Kyle Vanden Bosch, who is doubtful with a neck injury and isn't expected to play, but Suh and Corey Williams know how to plug holes in the middle and can make life difficult for the likes of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor.
Nate Caminata: Chicago is so reminiscent of its 2001 team that found ways to win. They're not flashy on offense, but they're certainly efficient. Cutler has finally turned in performances proportionate to the attention of his acquisition last year. Defensively, Chicago is thriving. Basically, coordinators Mike Martz and Rod Marinelli are doing what they couldn't in Detroit: win. With that said, the Lions appeared a bit upbeat this week, spurred by Burleson guaranteeing a win. Maybe it's all related to the controversial finish they painfully lost in the season opener at Chicago. Who knows. But the team has played better at home, they match up well with the Bears and might have a few intangibles on their side. ... LIONS 21, BEARS 17.
John Crist: Contrary to what my colleague in Motown believes, I see no way how the Lions can win this game unless the Bears help them out significantly, like allowing Johnson to catch three touchdown passes and Cutler firing four interceptions. Neither is beyond the realm of possibility, of course, but Stanton is a third stringer on a bad team for a reason and now must face a D that has been nothing short of dominant at times. On the other side of the ball, Detroit doesn't have enough playmakers in the back seven to give Cutler too much trouble. ... BEARS 27, LIONS 10.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Nate answered five questions from John, Click Here. To read Part II, where John answered five questions from Nate, Click Here.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Nate Caminata is the publisher of RoarReport.com.