TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger SERIES: 149th meeting, with the Bears holding an 83-60-5 edge in the series, which dates back to 1930, when the Lions were still the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. The Lions have lost the last three games they have played at Soldier Field and have lost five of the last seven games overall to the Bears.
*2003 RANKINGS: Lions: offense 32nd (32nd rush, 24th pass); defense 24th (15th rush, 13th pass). Bears: offense 28th (18th rush, 30th pass); defense 14th (15h rush, 28th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions have serious questions at linebacker with Boss Bailey out, James Davis expected to play through a sprained ankle and rookie Teddy Lehman possibly starting on the outside despite playing in the middle at Oklahoma. Bears offensive coordinator Terry Shea came over from Kansas City, and he envisions using RB Thomas Jones in a Priest Holmes-like fashion. That means a lot of action for the Lions' linebackers covering Jones as a runner and receiver. If Detroit can stuff the run and keep the pressure on Bears QB Rex Grossman, the Lions' offense should keep them in the game. WRs Charles Rogers and Roy Williams looked impressive in training camp, and Chicago will be shorthanded without CB Jerry Azumah and with LB Brian Urlacher and CB R.W. McQuarters attempting to heal hamstring injuries in time to play.
FAST FACTS: Lions: Have an NFL-record 24-game losing streak. ... DE Adewale Ogunleye has 32 sacks in 39 career games. Bears: Jones averaged 6.5 yards per carry in the preseason. ... Lead the series 83-60-5 and have won the past three meetings at Soldier Field. ... QB Joey Harrington has been sacked once per every 57.8 pass attempts in his career.
PREDICTED SCORE: Bears 23, Lions 19
--RB Kevin Jones and Artose Pinner have been sharing reps with the Lions first offense in preparation for the season opener Sunday at Chicago. Coach Steve Mariucci is not saying which will get the starting assignment but that both will play, depending on field position and the offensive package he wants to use. Jones is the faster, more elusive of the two backs and is expected to get the most carries. Pinner is expected to be used as a downhill runner and as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
--DE Kalimba Edwards, who missed nearly two weeks of practice because of soreness in the groin area where he had sports hernia surgery a year ago, practiced all week and told coach Steve Mariucci he is 96 percent effective for the season opener at Chicago. The Lions are depending on Edwards for a pass rush.
--OLB James Davis missed the Lions' final two preseason games with an ankle injury but practiced all week and is expected to be ready for the season opener Sunday at Chicago. If he is deemed sufficiently recovered, Davis is like to start at the weak side linebacker position.
--OLB Teddy Lehman, who spent most of training camp working at middle linebacker, will probably start at strong side linebacker for the Lions in their season opener Sunday at Chicago. Lehman, a second-round draft pick, is still learning to get off blocks but the coaches like his speed and athletic ability.
--RB Anthony Thomas (side) was upgraded from questionable to probable, although he isn't expected to get a lot of playing time behind starter Thomas Jones.
--DE Michael Haynes will play significant snaps in a rotation behind starters DLE Adewale Ogunleye and DRE Alex Brown. Haynes' better position is DRE, but Ogunleye will need more relief since he's been back just two weeks from a holdout with the Dolphins before the Bears traded for him.
--CB R.W. McQuarters (hamstring, probable) had been questionable earlier in the week, but practice everyday and appears to be on schedule to at least play some on Sunday with a good chance that he'll start though not necessarily play the entire game.
--CB Nathan Vasher will probably see some time in relief of R.W. McQuarters, who hopes to start but is coming back from a hamstring injury. The rookie Vasher could also wind up starting if McQuarters cannot.
--CB Todd McMillon could also play some in the base defense to give McQuarters a breather or as the starter. He and rookie Nathan Vasher have both played in place of McQuarters while he was hurt.
--MLB Brian Urlacher practiced again and should start, although he may need to be spelled occasionally throughout Sunday's game.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Lions: What a difference 12 months can make to an NFL coach.
It was just about that long ago that Dick Jauron, then in his fifth season as the head coach of the Chicago Bears, was plotting to beat the division rival Lions.
But when the Lions go to Soldier Field for their NFL season opener Sunday against the Bears, Jauron will be on their side of the field, laying out the defense and doing everything in his power to help them break their 24-game road losing streak.
Jauron was fired at the end of the Bears' 7-9 season last year and a few weeks later accepted a job with Steve Mariucci as the Lions defensive coordinator. Will Jauron have an edge because of his familiarity with the Bears personnel?
"Every game is different, every year is definitely different," he said. "I don't think there's an edge anywhere in the thing. Both teams will show up and, hopefully, perform their best, and the best team will win the game."
Or could the Bears have an edge knowing how Jauron likes to run his defenses?
"I think they'll benefit from it only to the degree that they've watched tape and the tendencies are right on the tape," he said. "In terms of past history, I don't know what they'll garner from that but from our preseason they'll certainly garner a lot from those tapes, as we do from them."
Bears: It doesn't take Bears offensive coordinator Terry Shea more than a heartbeat to answer when he's asked to name his impact players.
"I think you start with Thomas Jones," Shea said. "I'm not so sure after that."
But Shea seems pretty sure of the big-play weapon that he has in Jones, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound bundle of muscle with the speed and quickness to turn any touch into a touchdown. Used sparingly in the preseason, Jones nevertheless demonstrated the explosiveness to go all the way every time he touched the ball. Shea has seen enough to make him a believer.
"I'd like to see him catch 50 passes or better," the offensive coordinator says matter-of-factly. "And I don't have any doubt he can rush for over 1,300 yards. That's not done by himself, (but) that would be a very solid season obviously for Thomas."
Did he say solid?
Only one player in Bears history has ever combined 1,300 rushing yards with 50 receptions. Walter Payton did it in 1983 (1,421 rushing yards and 53 catches for 607 yards) and in 1978 (1,395 yards on the ground and 480 through the air on 50 catches). Payton also had three near misses. He ran for 1,551 yards and caught 49 passes for 483 yards in 1985. He rushed for 1,460 yards and caught 46 passes for 367 yards in 1980, and he rushed for 1,684 yards and caught 45 passes for 368 yards in 1984.
Jones isn't hung up on numbers, although he says he should catch 50-60 passes just because of the nature of the offense.
"I don't set any goals for myself," he said. "I just try to do the best that I can. I take it one play at a time. Sometimes you get ahead of yourself and you forget about what's most important, and that's the next play."
Jones has never had more catches in a season than the 32 he had as a rookie after the Arizona Cardinals made him the seventh overall selection, and his 627 rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a career high. But Jones has never started more than nine games in a season, in 2002, and he's never carried more than 138 times.
Based on his 6.5 yards per carry in the preseason and the $10 million hat the Bears have invested in him, this should be his best shot at fulfilling the expectations he had coming out of Virginia.
"I expect big things from myself," Jones said. "As far as people expecting big things from me, that's fine, too.
"A lot of guys have been successful in this offense, and they've been guys with the same skills that I have, as far as the ability to hit holes and the physical ability to make guys miss and quickness and things like that. I love the situations that this offense puts me in, and I just look forward to playing in it."