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On Paper: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears

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Previewing the Week 16 matchup between the lowly Chicago Bears and the surging Detroit Lions.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions (10-4) are a win away from the postseason. The Chicago Bears (5-9) are on the verge of their worst record in a decade. The teams are heading in opposite trajectories, with the Lions riding a three-game winning streak and the Bears suffering a three-game losing streak. Both of those streaks started on Thanksgiving Day, when these two teams faced each other and the Lions came out victorious 34-17. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Lions will complete the sweep of the Bears this season, but stranger things have happened at Soldier Field, so let's consult the charts.

Lions pass offense (9th) vs. Bears pass defense (31st)

lions pass o

The Lions pass offense is finally getting back on track and actually has a decent-looking chart after a shaky start to the season. They have now surpassed passer rating averages in six of 14 games, been held below in seven games and met averages in one. They have surpassed yardage averages in exactly half of their games in 2014.

Detroit now ranks 18th in passer rating (88.0), t-14th in yards per attempt (7.3) and 19th in completion percentage (61.6). They have crawled their way back to an average passing offense, which is still a little disappointing, but ultimately relieving given how poor it has looked at times.

bears pass d

The Bears pass defense has been a disaster by any measure. Well over half of the teams they have faced were able to outgain both their yardage and passer rating averages. In fact, half of the Bears' opponents have had a passer rating of over 110 against Chicago.

Chicago ranks 31st in passer rating allowed (106.1), t-31st in yards per attempt (8.3) and 31st in completion percentage (67.6). They are atrocious.

In the previous matchup, the Lions absolutely dominated the Bears defense despite missing two of their best offensive linemen. This week, they'll be without their top two right tackles, and their starting left guard is battling illness.

Player to watch: Jared Allen. The one blemish from the Lions in the previous matchup was a strip-sack from Allen that quickly turned into seven points for the Bears. Allen always seems to have the Lions' number and is good for at least one sack of Matthew Stafford per game.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. I don't expect the Lions to have quite as dominant of a game as the previous matchup, but it's hard to find a scenario in which the Bears win this matchup. Their pass defense is just terrible.

Lions run offense (30th) vs. Bears run defense (15th)

lions run o

The Lions run offense is still awful.

bears run d

The Bears have a somewhat decent run defense, surprisingly. Only five of 14 opponents have outgained their season YPC average against Chicago, while half have surpassed their rushing yards per game average.

The Bears rank t-20th in yards per carry allowed (4.3), but have only allowed first downs on 18.2 percent of carries (fifth). They are deceptively good.

In the previous matchup, the Lions saw some success, totaling 91 yards at 4.0 a carry. While those numbers aren't outstanding, they're above average for the Lions.

Player to watch: Joique Bell. Bell has been carrying the bulk of the carries for the Lions lately, and he has been fairly successful at running the ball (grading on a curve). In the past five games, he has averaged 73.8 rushing yards at 4.1 a carry.

Advantage: Bears +0.5. I don't expect the game to ride on this matchup either way. The Bears are pretty good at stopping the run, and the Lions have recently been good enough running the ball to keep defenses honest. The Lions won't have a breakout game this week (and they won't for the rest of the season, either), but the lack of an explosive running game won't hurt them much.

Bears pass offense (12th) vs. Lions pass defense (14th)

bears pass o

The Bears' pass offense has been a mixed bag all year, outgaining passer rating averages in six of 14 games while surpassing yardage averages in eight of 14.

But you can pretty much throw this entire chart in the garbage, because Jay Cutler is out and Jimmy Clausen is in. Clausen hasn't started an NFL game since his rookie year in 2010. That year, Clausen went 1-9 as a starter and finished the season with a 58.4 passer rating. However, it's a bit unfair to judge Clausen on his rookie year with an awful Carolina Panthers team. He's probably better than his stats suggest, but don't expect anything better than Cutler.

lions pass d

The Lions pass defense continues to oscillate between great and mediocre. Despite their two interceptions last week, Detroit couldn't hold Minnesota below yardage nor passer rating averages. All season, only four opponents have managed to outgain their passer rating average against the Lions.

Detroit is holding opponents to an average passer rating of 81.1 (fifth), 6.8 yards per attempt (ninth) and a completion percentage of 64.5 (23rd).

Last time the two faced, the Bears were able to put up a fair amount of yards, but Cutler's two interceptions proved costly.

Player to watch: Clausen. Will Clausen be more 2011 Matt Flynn or 2013 Matt Flynn? I really have no idea. But with that offensive line, I can't say I'm too envious of him this week.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. Although the Lions defense has looked a little shaky lately, with Clausen behind center, I wouldn't expect the Bears to suddenly morph into a dominant offense this week, especially with no Brandon Marshall.

Bears run offense (26th) vs. Lions run defense (1st)

bears run o

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for the Bears this season has been their lack of a running game. Once a staple of the Bears, the running game has only managed to outgain the defense's averages in yardage three times all year, and just four times by YPC.

The Bears are averaging 4.1 yards per carry (t-15th) but are surprisingly earning first downs on 26.9 percent of rushes (second-best). Still, they have been without a good rushing game all year.

lions run d

The Free Hurt Defense continues to dish out embarrassing box scores free of charge. No team has reached their rushing yards average against the Lions, and only two lucky teams have managed to escape with their yards per carry stats at a respectable number.

Detroit's run defense is still putting up historically amazing numbers. They lead the league in yards per carry allowed (3.1), rank second in percentage of rushes earning first downs (17.2) and are one of six teams that haven't allowed a rush of 40+ yards this season.

The last time the two teams faced off, the Bears didn't even tempt fate against Detroit. They rushed the ball just eight times for 13 yards. None of those eight rushes went longer than 5 yards.

Player to watch: DeAndre Levy. Last time, Levy led the Lions with 10 tackles against the Bears, including two tackles for loss.

Advantage: Lions +2. With Clausen getting the start, I expect the Bears to try and get something going on the ground this time around. Unfortunately for them, they'll be face to face with the best run defense in the league. Good luck, Bears.

Off paper:

Soldier Field. The Lions have lost five of their last six games at Soldier Field, although they did manage to pull out the win last year. Still, games tend to be pretty strange in the frozen tundra, and with Clausen getting the start this week, the stage is set for something wacky.

Last week's prediction:

Though I (like everyone else) predicted a Lions victory, my 27-10 prediction was nowhere close to the 16-14 final. That moves my overall record to 11-3, but I went back and looked at what my record has been against the spread. Drum roll please...........

On Paper is 7-5 against the spread (two predictions were directly on the betting line). Not bad, but after a 4-0 start against the spread, things haven't been pretty since.

Anyway, in the comments section, David Tokarz notched his second victory of the year with his hubris-less prediction of 17-10. Welcome to the two-time winners club. You and BarryStillRules have exclusive access to the On Paper Lounge! LOOK AT BANNER, DAVID!

on paper champ

Help yourself to some refreshments, or maybe you'd like to hang out with our VIP guests: Louis Delmas and the New York Times Fourth Down Bot. Both provide stimulating dinner conversations, although the topics between the two are very different.

This week's prediction:

The Lions have a pretty dominant +4.5 advantage. There's really no reason the Lions shouldn't win this game. Yes, the Lions have struggled on offense. Yes, Detroit almost dropped a must-win game to the lowly Minnesota Vikings at home last week. But for whatever struggles the Lions are going through right now, the Bears are experiencing them tenfold. They are a team with nothing to play for and a group of players with a tenuous relationship with their coaches. The current version of the Bears is going to be taken to the woodchipper in the offseason, so there is no reason the Lions shouldn't send them off with one final butt-kicking. Lions 35, Bears 13.