Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
The Detroit Lions (4-11) put their dismal 2012 season to rest against the Chicago Bears (9-6) on Sunday. What could have been a huge NFC North showdown is nothing but a small chance for the Lions to play spoiler, and the numbers aren't even on their side.
It's finally here. Week 17. The merciful end to a greatly disappointing season. While there's no salvaging anything this season, the Lions do have an opportunity to play spoiler to their rival. The Chicago Bears sit at 9-6, needing a win and some help to make it to the postseason. Despite their desperation, and the Lions' recent ineptitude, the Bears are a mere three-point favorite coming into Detroit.
Lions Pass Offense (1st) vs. Bears Pass Defense (6th)
Not much has changed all year. The Lions throw the ball a ton, rack up crazy amounts of yards, but are merely average when it comes to efficiency.
The last time the two teams played, the Lions were held to their second lowest yardage total of the season, but they were moderately efficient, outgaining the Bears' season average of passer rating allowed. However, the Lions failed to score any points until the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
The Bears continue to have one of the best pass defenses in the league. After a scorching hot start (holding their first nine opponents below passer rating averages) they've cooled off a bit. However, their regression is really more a reflection of the strength of their opponent. They allowed the Seahawks, Packers and 49ers to torch them through the air, but those three teams have been highly efficient all year.
The Bears held the Lions below Detroit's averages last time the two met, and they sacked Stafford three times.
Player to watch: Julius Peppers. Peppers sacked Stafford once in the last matchup and tallied 2 QB hits. Jeff Backus has always struggled with elite pass rushers and I would expect nothing different Sunday.
Advantage: Bears +1. I suspect the Lions will get their yardage, most of it coming from Calvin Johnson. However, with little other options, Stafford will have to force the ball into tight windows, and the Bears will make him pay at least twice.
Lions Run Offense (23rd) vs. Bears Run defense (9th)
The disappointing running game has been ... disappointing-er as of late. Facing two poor run defenses in the past two weeks, the Lions failed to get anything going. They have now only surpassed yards per carry averages once in the past nine games.
However, in the first meeting between the two teams, the Lions were actually highly efficient running the ball, totaling 99 yards at 5.5 a carry. They found themselves down early in the game, so they didn't have many attempts, but when they did run, they were successful.
The Bears sport an above-average run defense. They've held nine of 15 opponents below their YPC average, and eight of 15 below their yardage average. They are ceding 4.2 a carry, which is only good enough for tied for 13th in the league.
However, where they really hurt you is forcing fumbles. Their 11 forced fumbles are tied for second-best in the league. And that's where they hurt the Lions last matchup. Both Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure had crucial fumbles that cost the Lions any chance of winning the game.
Player to watch: Charles Tillman. Of all the Bears defenders, Tillman is the most dangerous at forcing turnovers. He has 10 forced fumbles, which is 8 more than anyone on his team and 3 more than anyone in the league.
Advantage: Bears +1. Last matchup provides a little promise for the Lions' running game, and Brian Urlacher looks to be out again this week. However, the Bears defense has shown little decline in Urlacher's absence, and the Lions just don't have the talent to match up with Chicago's defense.
Bears Pass Offense (29th) vs. Lions Pass Defense (14th)
Cutler and the Bears' passing attack have been quite underwhelming this year, even with the addition of Brandon Marshall. They have only outgained yardage and passer rating averages in five of 15 games this season.
The Bears rank just 22nd in passer rating (79.4), 23rd in yards per attempt (6.7) and 22nd in completion percentage (59.3 percent). Their pass protection remains very poor, allowing 42 sacks on the season (eighth-most).
The Lions pass defense remains a mystery. They've held just five of 15 below yardage averages and passer rating averages. But prior to last week, they had held their past four opponents to passer ratings well below their averages.
In the previous matchup, the Lions held the Bears pass game in check, holding Cutler to just 150 yards on 31 passing attempts and sacking him 5 times.
Player to watch: Brandon Marshall. This is a pretty lame matchup full of below-average players. The one exception to that is Marshall, who ranks second in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. To be honest, I have no idea how this matchup will go. The Bears passing offense is clearly not explosive, but the Lions pass defense has been terribly porous at times this year. Basing my prediction on the previous matchup and the home-field advantage, the Lions squeak out with an edge here.
Bears Run Offense (9th) vs. Lions Run Defense (18th)
After a terrible start, the Bears and Matt Forte have rebounded to respectability in the run game. Still, they've only outgained opponents' yardage averages in seven of 15 games and YPC averages in four of 15.
Overall, the Bears are tied for 14th in YPC (4.2) and tied for 17th in rushing touchdowns (10).
The Lions run defense remains the one bright spot of the 2012 season. They've held 11 of 15 opponents below yardage averages and seven of 15 below yards per carry averages. While they are still ceding a poor 4.5 a carry (tied for 25th), this has been the result of playing a tough schedule more than anything else.
However, in the previous matchup, the Bears had no trouble running the ball against the Lions. Though the Bears' stats are padded by a Cutler scramble of 24 yards, Forte and Michael Bush still combined for 132 yards on 28 carries (4.7 a carry)
Player to watch: Andre Fluellen. What was once thought to be the Lions' deepest position has now succumbed to the injury bug. With Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill sidelined for the season, Fluellen has been called upon to start aside Ndamukong Suh. Fluellen was added to the team just a few weeks ago, and now he's starting. Big task for a big man.
Advantage: Bears +1. Again, I am giving the previous matchup a lot of weight in determining this advantage. But aside from the Bears' ease against the Lions last game, Chicago does seem to have the advantage here. The Lions are short-handed, and Forte has been coming on as of late (averaging 5.4 YPC in the past three weeks).
Revenge: It was just 12 years ago that Paul Edinger sent the Lions packing, killing their hopes of the postseason with a devastating 54-yard field goal at the end of regulation. The 4-11 Bears had nothing to play for and were 10-point underdogs. The 9-6 Lions just needed a win to get in. Now the Lions have a chance to repay the favor.
Playing for jobs: The Lions have 33 players set to become free agents next year. These players will have their final shot to show their coaches and other teams what they can offer in 2013.
The Bears have a +2.5 advantage, including an edge in three of the four matchups. I expect this to be a low-scoring, close matchup. But with the continual mistakes made by nearly every Lions player, it's hard to imagine Detroit keeping it all together long enough to pull out a victory and avenge the 2000 Detroit Lions. Bears 17, Lions 10.
It's been a pleasure writing these previews for you all this year. While this season didn't go as planned, our devotion still reigns supreme. You're all the best.
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