The Chicago Bears (9-6) will square off with the Detroit Lions (4-11) this Sunday at Ford Field. It is a must-win game for the Bears, who not only need to beat Detroit but will also need the Green Bay Packers to beat the Minnesota Vikings if Chicago is going to make the postseason.
The Bears and Lions will be meeting for the 166th time overall. Chicago holds a 95-65-5 edge in the all-time series. The Bears have won eight of the last nine meetings between the two teams, including a 13-7 victory over Detroit in Week 6 this season.
The Bears are 41-41-1 in games played in Detroit. The two teams have split the last 10 meetings at Ford Field. Chicago lost the most-recent meeting in Detroit 24-13 in Week 7 last season.
The Bears will be without S Chris Conte (hamstring) and LB Blake Costanzo (calf). Second-year player Anthony Walters will be making his first career start in place of Conte. LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) is doubtful and not expected to play.
RB Armando Allen (knee) and DT Henry Melton (chest) are both questionable. Melton is looking likely to play, while Allen appears unlikely. RB Matt Forte (ankle), T Jonthan Scott (hamstring), CB Tim Jennings (shoulder) and CB Charles Tillman (ribs/elbow) are all probable and expected to play.
For the Lions: DT Sammie Hill (toe) is out; TE Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) is doubtful; S Louis Delmas (knee) and CB Chris Houston (hamstring) are questionable; S Don Carey (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee/ankle), RB Kevin Smith (thumb) and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch are all probable.
C Roberto Garza
Bears on Offense
Chicago's offensive rankings
Points scored: 15th (23.3)
Total offense: 28th (305.3)
Rushing offense: 9th (121.7)
Passing offense: 29th (183.6)
Detroit's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 29th (27.4)
Total defense: 13th (337.9)
Rushing defense: 18th (116.3)
Passing defense: 14th (221.6)
Turnover ratio: 26th (-12)
Matchups to Watch
WR Brandon Marshall vs. CB Chris Houston
QB Jay Cutler has made it clear all season that Marshall is his first, and sometimes only, read on every single pass play. He has more targets, yards and catches than all of Chicago's other wide receivers combined this year. Essentially, if you shut down Marshall, you shut down the Bears' passing attack. The Lions held him relatively in check during the first meeting (6 catches, 81 yards). Houston will be tasked with again shutting down one of the best receivers in the NFL. Houston has had a solid season and is easily Detroit's best coverage defender. If he shuts down Marshall, the Bears will have little chance of scoring enough points for a victory.
DT Ndamukong Suh vs. C Roberto Garza
Suh is having an outstanding season, particularly as a pass rusher. Alongside fellow DT Nick Fairley, the interior of Detroit's defensive line has been extremely formidable. The Lions will look to pressure Cutler with their front-four pass rush, where they have Pro Bowl-caliber players at every position. It will be up to Garza to make the correct line calls to be sure all players are picked up. He'll also have to play strong in the middle to keep Suh, who can be as dominant as any defensive tackle in the league, out of the backfield.
Keys on Offense
-Cutler needs to continue his historically high level of play against the Lions. In eight career starts versus Detroit, Cutler has lost just once, throwing 11 touchdowns and 1 interception, good for a 100.9 passer rating. Against all other NFC North teams, he's 6-8 with 23 touchdowns and 25 picks. If Cutler can do what he's always done, limiting mistakes and helping Chicago win the field-position battle, the Bears will be in good shape offensively.
-The only way to keep the ball out of Cutler's hands, thus limiting his potential for mistakes, is to run the ball well. Forte is expected to play, although he may not be 100 percent. Getting him – and Kahlil Bell, who will also see his fair share of carries – going on the ground will wear down Detroit's defense and open up the play-action pass.
-The Lions' secondary will focus their attention on Marshall, which will leave plenty of one-on-one opportunities for Alshon Jeffery, who will be matched up with 10-year veteran Drayton Florence for most of the game. Jeffery has shown flashes of playmaking ability but injuries and penalties have stunted his growth. This needs to be Jeffery's breakout game, where he shows once and for all he can be the No. 2 wideout Chicago's offense needs.
-On the edge, the Lions rush Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, two of the better pass rushing defensive ends in the league, both of whom picked up a sack in the first meeting between these two teams. On the left side, J'Marcus Webb will need to continue his improved play. On the right side Jonathan Scott returns from injury, yet Gabe Carimi played well in his place. It's unclear who will start at this point. Whomever Mike Tice slots at right tackle, they must keep Avril from collapsing the pocket, otherwise Cutler could be forced into some questionable throws that could cost Chicago a chance at the playoffs.
DT Henry Melton
Bears on Defense
Chicago's defensive rankings
Points allowed: 2nd (16.9)
Total defense: 5th (314.9)
Rushing defense: 9th (103.7)
Passing defense: 6th (211.2)
Turnover ratio: 2nd (+6)
Detroit's offensive rankings
Points scored: 16th (23.2)
Total offense: 2nd (414.2)
Rushing offense: 23rd (102.7)
Passing offense: 1st (311.5)
Matchups to Watch
DT Henry Melton vs. C Dominic Raiola
It's been a war of words between these two players this week. Melton called Raiola dirty, with Raiola firing back, calling Melton a clown. It's a battle that will play out on the field, in what should be a chippy matchup inside. Melton has been one of the most effective pass-rushing DTs in the game this year, while also dominant against the run. If he can work over Raiola, he can help shut down Detroit's rushing attack, while also pressuring QB Matthew Stafford into some dumb throws – Stafford has 16 INTs on the season.
WR Calvin Johnson vs. Charles Tillman
Johnson broke Jerry Rice's all-time single-season receiving yardage mark last week. He now has his eyes on 2,000 receiving yards, a feat never before accomplished in the NFL. He'll need 108 yards to reach that mark, and Tillman would like nothing more than to keep him from reaching that goal. On top of that, Stafford needs just 305 passing yards to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 5,000 yards two seasons in a row. Additionally, Detroit's No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 receivers are all on IR. So balls will by flying early and often Johnson's way. Tillman has shut down Megatron in the last two meetings. Yet in last year's game in Detroit, Johnson caught five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. This matchup will go a long way toward deciding whether or not the Bears win this game.
Keys on Defense
-Lions LT Jeff Backus may be playing his final game in the NFL. It's fitting that he'll be facing DE Julius Peppers, as the two have had some classic battles in the past. In nine games against Detroit, Peppers has 30 tackles, 11 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. On top of that, he's coming off his best game of the season: a 3-sack performance against the Cardinals last week. If Peppers can carry that momentum over into this game, and work over Backus, Stafford will be in for a long day.
-The Lions have not run the ball well for years, although Mike Leshoure has infused some life into the rushing attack this season. He's a north-south back that gets better as the game wears on. He's also a force in the red zone, having scored 9 touchdowns this year. The last thing the Bears need is to allow Leshoure to gain momentum, which will force them to bring an extra player into the box, thus compromising the secondary against Megatron.
-S Anthony Walters will be making his first career start on Sunday. Against the 1st ranked passing offense, with a quarterback and receiver looking to break NFL records, that's not a great position for the second-year player. A bad angle or read by Walters could be costly. Hopefully for Chicago, the youngster is up to the challenge.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.