MATCHUPS TO WATCH: LIONS ON OFFENSE
WR Calvin Johnson vs. Bears Secondary
Calvin Johnson has scored two touchdowns in his last four games, so you can't discount the gravity of "Megatron's" importance to the Monday night tilt. He is Stafford's ultimate security blanket; a sure thing if there ever was one. Chicago's chances in this contest rely almost entirely on minimizing Johnson's impact on the bottom line. However, they must straddle the line between selling out and keeping an eye on Stafford's other targets: wide receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young, and TE Brandon Pettigrew. It's a tough balance to maintain and it falls entirely in Chicago's lap.
DE Julius Peppers vs. LT Jeff Backus
Chicago's defensive line has not been able to get consistent quarterback pressure all season. The Bears rank 19th in the league in sacks, a big reason opposing offenses have had so much success through the air. Peppers has seen his fair share of double teams but he's not winning the one-on-one battles as often as he needs to. Chicago's defense relies on pressure up front. Backus is a savvy veteran that is no slouch protecting the back side, but Peppers is by far a superior player. If the Bears are to win, Peppers needs to again display the dominance he showed last season. If not, and he disappears again, Stafford will have time in the pocket and he'll pick apart the secondary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
RB Matt Forte
LB Stephen Tulloch vs. RB Matt Forte
The Lions have struggled to contain speedy, talented running backs thus far into the regular season, and Forte presents yet another dangerous adversary. The team will rely upon middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch to ensure that Forte doesn't capitalize on Detroit's aggressive defense with screens, delayed hand-offs, etc. Expect Tulloch in almost a 'spy' role, dedicated to limiting Forte's effectiveness in the open field. Of course, the team's best defense in this situation might also be an offensive explosion, forcing Chicago to abandon its running game and play catch up via the air.
G Lance Louis vs. DT Ndamukong Suh
Detroit's defensive line is talented across the board but none more so than Suh, as dominant an interior defensive lineman as there is in the game. His blend of size, speed and aggressiveness is unmatched in the NFL, and he plays with a mean streak. Louis has had trouble with powerful DTs this year so it will be imperative he stays balanced and plays big, hopefully limiting Suh's disruptiveness. The rest of the linemen will have their hands full as well, which will limit how much help they can offer Louis. If he can't keep Suh out of the backfield, the offense won't be able to accomplish much.
THE LIONS WIN IF ...
They avoid early turnovers and a late start. Really, it's that simple. The Bears cannot match Detroit's offensive prowess, and the team's offensive line is at the will of the Lions' vaunted defensive front. It's entirely up to the Lions -- and quarterback Matthew Stafford -- how good they can and would like to play, but in the past two weeks, they've slept past the alarm and awoken in enough time to save face.
THE BEARS WIN IF ...
The offense can run the ball. It seems almost like a copout but getting the ground game going early against Detroit's front seven will be key. If they falter in the first half and get behind, Martz will very likely turn to his pass-happy ways. The Lions could then really get after Cutler, which will end in not only sacks but most likely turnovers as well. Forte is playing as well as any back in the league. If the front five can give him a few seams, he should be able to take advantage, relieving some of the pressure off Cutler and increasing the effectiveness of play action.
THE LIONS LOSE IF ...
They started the game the same way they have the last two weeks. The comebacks have created a fun, warm story, but luck eventually runs out. Detroit simply cannot find itself down three touchdowns and expect to crawl back into the game in the final 30 minutes against a division rival that is well aware of Detroit's burgeoning reputation.
THE BEARS LOSE IF ...
The defense can't limit the big play. The Lions' offense boasts the league's best receiver in Calvin Johnson. "Megatron" has the size, speed and leaping ability that makes him nearly impossible to stop in jump-ball situations. The Lions have fallen behind this year due to an anemic rushing attack. Stafford's only option has been to just throw the ball up to Johnson and opposing defenses, which game plan specifically for such a scenario, just can't stop him. The Bears secondary may get a boost this week with the possible return of safety Chris Harris. If he can play and the team can keep Johnson in check -- most likely done through bracket coverage -- Chicago has a good chance at a road win.
Nate Caminata: Unless Chicago has developed a revolutionary defensive tactic to contain Calvin Johnson, this game could be over by halftime. The Lions are not going to start three consecutive games in the same manner, especially given it's their first home game in three weeks -- and a nationally televised contest. This is a statement game by Detroit to silence any remaining doubters and establish itself as a contender in 2011. They'll do just that. LIONS 28 - CHICAGO 17.
Jeremy Stoltz: The Bears just have too many questions marks along the offensive line, in the secondary and at wide receiver to give me enough confidence to pick them as road underdogs. The Lions have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and they'll be looking to show the nation they are for real on Monday Night Football. That said, I don't believe it will be a blowout. No matter their respective records, these two teams play each other tough each time they square off. I don't see this one being any different. LIONS 27, BEARS 24.
Jeremy Stoltz is publisher of BearReport.com. Nate Caminata is publisher of RoarReport.com.