Division Decision: Detroit Lions

As we get closer to training camp, it's time to take a look at the Chicago Bears and compare them to each of their three rivals in the NFC North. Can the Lions get back on their paws after an 0-16 season? Bear Report breaks down both teams position by position to see who has the edge and where.

Quarterback

The Bears pushed all their chips to the middle of the table in the offseason to bring in Jay Cutler from Denver, and the one-time Bronco looked like the real deal throughout OTAs. The Lions spent the No. 1 choice in the draft on Matthew Stafford and hope he can be more Peyton Manning than Alex Smith, although look for a familiar foe, former Vikings Pro Bowler Daunte Culpepper, to start the year under center in Detroit.

While Stafford can make all the throws and Culpepper worked very hard to drop some weight and get in better shape, Cutler is an elite option at the game's most important position and makes the passing game better with his presence alone.

Big Edge: Bears

Running Back

Even though the Bears were just 24th in the NFL running the football last year and tied for 26th in yards per carry, Matt Forte is already one of the better all-around backs in football and poised to be a superstar. Although he did it quietly, Kevin Smith had a commendable rookie season himself in the Motor City and won't have to compete for playing time with Rudi Johnson in 2009.

Forte can do it all and may go as high as No. 2 overall in your upcoming fantasy draft, but the margin between these two ball carriers is not as wide as some might think.

Slight Edge: Bears


Johnson can make any quarterback look great.
Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images

Wide Receiver

Cutler can explode for 350 yards passing on any given Sunday and made stars out of the likes of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in Denver, but Devin Hester is not a No. 1 and Earl Bennett wasn't good enough to get on the field as a rookie. Not only does Calvin Johnson have the best nickname in the game today (Megatron), but the additions of Bryant Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, and Ronald Curry make this a respectable receiving corps.

While Bears fans are wondering if Hester will mature as a pass catcher with Cutler at the controls, Lions fans know Johnson can't be stopped no matter who's throwing him the ball.

Major Edge: Lions

Tight End

Chicago features one of the better pass-catching combinations in the NFL at the tight end position, with Desmond Clark still getting it done and Greg Olsen possibly on the brink of his first Pro Bowl. Detroit grabbed the best tight end in April's draft at No. 20 overall, Brandon Pettigrew, but it's going to take some time for him to realize all of that potential and be a difference maker.

Cutler did quite well with tight ends Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham in Mile High, so expect even bigger things from Clark and Olsen this coming season.

Big Edge: Bears

Offensive Line

Each team has struggled up front the past few years, but the Bears were aggressive in the offseason and will be much improved if Orlando Pace still has something left in the tank. Gosder Cherilus wasn't bad for the Lions as a rookie at right tackle, although veterans Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola are now both on the wrong side of 30 and in the twilight of their respective careers.

Even though there is a little skill-position talent to be genuinely excited about in both cities, neither attack will dent the scoreboard routinely until there is a big improvement in the trenches.

Slight Edge: Bears

Defensive Line

Neither Alex Brown nor Adewale Ogunleye is a double-digit sack guy these days at D-end, which is why tackle Tommie Harris is so important to the overall success of a Bears defense that has lived on reputation alone since making it all the way to Super Bowl XLI. D-tackles Chuck Darby and Grady Jackson are now 34 and 36 years old, respectively, meaning ends Jared DeVries and Dewayne White might not have the benefit of a big push in the middle for the Lions.

Harris can be special provided he stays off the injury report, while Detroit has a pair of potential pass rushers waiting in the wings with 2008 draft picks Cliff Avril and Ikaika Alama-Francis.

Slight Edge: Bears

Linebacker

Chicago already had a serious one-two punch with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and the addition of Pisa Tinoisamoa might make this the best group of 4-3 linebackers in the league. Ernie Sims has played well in relative anonymity because Detroit has been so bad lately, but all of a sudden he has been joined by a pair of accomplished veterans, Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, via free agency.

While the Lions should be better at this position and Sims has a chance to develop into a Pro Bowler since he's still only 24, the Monsters of the Midway look quite monstrous at linebacker right now.

Big Edge: Bears


Henry has intercepted 29 balls in 90 NFL starts.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Cornerback

Injuries have been a big problem across the board in the secondary recently for the Bears, with Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher each being beaten up and out of the lineup from time to time. The Lions haven't stopped anybody through the air the last few years, and they're once again relying on free agency after signing both Anthony Henry and Phillip Buchanon in the offseason.

Vasher is one of the keys to Chicago's defensive resurgence in 2009 because he's missed 20 of 32 games since getting a big-money contract extension, but at least there's some talent behind him on the depth chart in second-year playmaker Zack Bowman and rookie D.J. Moore.

Slight Edge: Bears

Safety

The Bears are charged with the unenviable task of replacing former Pro Bowler and locker-room leader Mike Brown, with Kevin Payne moving back to strong safety and Craig Steltz taking over at free safety. Daniel Bullocks is a sound tackler for the Lions even if he doesn't bring much play-making ability to the table, but second-round draft pick Louis Delmas looks legit and might be the next great safety in the division.

It's dangerous for a Cover-2 squad like Chicago to not have a pure free safety on the roster, plus new Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz will do wonders with Delmas since he turned Chris Hope into a pretty good strong safety at Tennessee.

Big Edge: Lions

Special Teams

The Midway Monsters are going to have the advantage over most of their opponents in the special-teams department, with Robbie Gould a consistent kicker, Brad Maynard an effective punter, and both Hester and Danieal Manning dangerous on returns. As for the Lions, Jason Hanson still has a big leg at 39 and Nick Harris has averaged no worse than 43.5 yards per punt since 2005, but the coverage units are lacking and the return men are mediocre.

If Hester rediscovers the magic he had in 2006 and '07 returning punts, Chicago may have the best special teams in the NFL yet again.

Big Edge: Bears


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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