Where did we go wrong? Looking back on the innocence of the offseason, this game looked like a cupcake win for the Lions after a grueling start to the schedule that would leave Detroit 3-2 or 2-3 at the absolute worst. But the Lions are not 3-2 or 2-3. They're not even 1-4. They're winless, hopeless and offensive-less.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, have recovered from their poor 0-3 start to rattle off a couple of impressive comeback wins. What seemed like an equally dark season has turned into a hopeful glimpse of the future. And while Bears fans aren't ready to make a playoff run in 2015, the two game winning streak does have fans riding the optimism train to the Kool-Aid factory.
Can the Lions reverse their fortune and knock the Bears off their cloud? Here's a look at the matchup:
Lions pass offense (23rd) vs. Bears pass defense (24th)
Ignore that left column. It is meaningless. Why? Because the Lions have attempted the second-most passes in the league and are actually on pace to break the single-season record for passing attempts.
When it comes to how effective the Lions are passing the ball, the Lions have been pathetic. They rank last in passer rating (73.5), last in yards per attempt (6.0) and 20th in completion percentage (63.1 percent).
The good news is that the Lions have faced some very good pass defenses through five weeks. All five teams rank 13th or higher in passing yards allowed, and three opponents rank in the top ten in passer rating allowed.
Although I don't believe the Bears to have a good pass defense, this chart gives me pause. They have faced some of the most efficient passing attacks in the league, and while they haven't exactly put up great defensive numbers, they've held most their opponents at or below their offensive averages.
Chicago ranks 28th in passer rating allowed (105.8), t-ninth in yards per attempt allowed (7.0) and 17th in completion percentage allowed (65.0 percent).
This is a very tough defense to analyze. While their raw statistics aren't very good, their performances against good offenses hold up pretty well. They aren't holding teams well below their averages, but they are keeping them in relative check.
Lately the Bears have seen more success, mostly as a result of a good pass rush. Although Chicago only has nine sacks on the year (t-19th), five of those have come in the past two weeks.
Player to watch: Pernell McPhee. Don't let his Mary Poppins-esque name fool you, McPhee is a beast. The former fifth-round draft pick has already tallied three sacks on the season to go with an interception and a blocked extra point. Look for McPhee to be disruptive against this poor Lions offensive line.
Advantage: Bears +1. My uncertainty about the Bears' pass defense prevents me from giving out a big advantage in either direction. However, I'm pretty certain the Lions pass offense is not very good right now. They've shown flashes of competency, but have yet to put it together for more than a drive or two at a time. If there's a week for Matthew Stafford to turn it around, this is it. But I need to see some consistency before I start giving the Lions an edge here.
Lions run offense (32nd) vs. Bears run defense (27th)
I don't need to go into the details here. The Lions have the worst running game in the league, and it's not even close. They're averaging 20 fewer rushing yards than every other team in the league.
The Bears are ceding the eighth-highest yards per carry in the league (4.4) but they are not giving up huge plays on the ground. That is both good and bad news for the Bears. The good news is that they are one of nine teams to allow just one rush of 20+ yards on the season. The bad news is that if they haven't given up many long runs, their 4.4 YPC allowed is even less impressive because there aren't any long runs skewing that numer.
Player to watch: LaRoy Reynolds. Last week, the Bears lost starting inside linebacker Shea McClellin to a knee injury. Reynolds, who has mostly been a special teams player during his two-year career, stepped in for the second half and picked up two tackles. It's unclear whether Reynolds will take over that role again this week, but if so, he may be a weakness the Lions can exploit on Sunday.
Advantage: Bears +1. Once again, Chicago doesn't really have an impressive defense, but the Lions' offense is god-awful. Detroit's running game is historically bad and even with the Bears' bad defense, there's no real reason for optimism here. Larry Warford and Joique Bell will likely be back in the lineup this week, but they've already played this season and the running game looked no different.
We can throw out the data from the Seahawks game, as Jimmy Clausen was the quarterback that week. But even if we do eliminate that row, we're left with an unimpressive Bears offense.
Jay Cutler currently ranks 22nd in passer rating (85.4), 28th in completion percentage (60.2 percent) and 26th in yards per attempt (6.6).
Though Chicago has also played a fair share of great pass defenses through five weeks, they weren't able to surpass averages over the Raiders and Chiefs, two disappointing defenses.
However, Cutler may get a big weapon back this week as Alshon Jeffery has been limited in practice all week. Jeffery has been sidelined since Week 1 with a hamstring injury.
The bad news keeps coming for Lions fans. Detroit has been awful at defending the pass, allowing all five opponents to meet or surpass their passer rating average. Not only that, but each quarterback has put up a rating of 100+ against Detroit.
Big plays have been the culprit for Detroit's defensive struggles. The Lions have given up 20 plays of 20+ passing yards (fourth-most) and four plays of over 40 yards (ninth-most). As a result, the Lions are ceding the highest yards per attempt in the league (9.2) and have the worst passer rating allowed in the NFL (116.4).
The good news is Detroit can occasionally bring the heat. The Lions 12 sacks on the season ranks them 10th in the league.
Player to watch: Martellus Bennett. Bennett is really starting to break out this season. He has received 24 targets over the past two weeks and turned those into 115 receiving yards and one touchdown. With an aging Stephen Tulloch struggling in pass protection, this screams mismatch.
Advantage: Bears +1. Neither team inspires much confidence in the matchup, but, again, the Bears marginally edge Detroit in performance through five weeks. The one weakness the Lions may be able to exploit is pass protection. Chicago has allowed 11 sacks on the season (13th-most).
Bears run offense (17th) vs. Lions run defense (23rd)
The Bears' running game is off to a slow start. Although they have outgained the defense's yardage averages in four of five games, Chicago is not running very efficiently. They haven't averaged more than 4 YPC since Week 1 and have steadily averaged less yards per carry each week.
The Lions' run defense has been wildly inconsistent through five weeks. Two very good running teams destroyed the Lions defense, while another decent rushing attack (Seahawks) were held well below their season averages.
Part of the reason for the variance is injuries. Detroit is currently hurting in the middle of the defense. It looks like the Lions will again be without starting defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, while their other starter Tyrunn Walker was lost for the season a week ago. Additionally, DeAndre Levy's 2015 season is now in jeopardy after it was announced he will undergo hip surgery this week.
Player to watch: Matt Forte. Though the obvious choice, Forte has been known to beat up the Lions a bit. In his 14 career games against Detroit, he is averaging 76.1 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
Advantage: Draw. Although the Lions are beat up on defense, the Bears aren't exactly the most intimidating running game right now. The Lions have been dealing with injuries all year on defense, so I think the guys they have can meet the challenge that Forte brings. Unless the Lions give up another couple big plays, expect this to be a quiet matchup.
Revenge. The Lions swept the Bears in 2014, and their final victory over the Bears was an ugly one. It involved a stomp that resulted in a suspension and an illegal hit that resulted in a concussion. The Bears likely haven't forgotten either incident.
Last week's prediction:
Last week, On Paper moved to 3-2 on the season after predicting a convincing win for the Cardinals, 27-13. Apparently, I was a little too generous to the Lions. In the comment section, 3igB1ue3ilver 1mpr3ssed with a v3ry accurat3 34-17 pred1ct1on. Dang, that's exhausting to type like that. Anyway, here's your prize 3igB1ue3ilver:
This week on the PODcast we talked about our objection to wearing paper bags to the game. My real tiff with these fans? They aren't being Earth-friendly. But worry not, 3igB1ue3ilver, you will be the newest, biggest trendsetter among whiny fans with this eco-friendly, reusable Lions Shame Bag. Enjoy!
This week's prediction:
That leaves the Bears with a decent +3 advantage. This comes as surprise to myself, having been prepared to finally pick the Lions to win again. But if you think I'm being unfair, ask yourself this important question: what are the Lions doing well right now? Because if these charts are accurate, the answer is nothing. The Bears aren't a good team, but there are at least small beams of sunshine peeking through the clouds. It's completely overcast in Detroit. Bears 20, Lions 10.