Here we are, friends. The end of another Detroit Lions season. Most fans thought it wouldn't end like this, hoping that the final game against the Chicago Bears would be a chance for the Lions to win their first NFC North title. But considering the Lions' 1-7 start, an opportunity to sweep the Bears and win a seventh game isn't the worst consolation prize. Chicago, too, is looking to get their seventh tally in the win column and host the Lions as a one-point favorite. Here's a closer look at the matchup:
Lions pass offense (16th) vs. Bears pass defense (20th)
Matthew Stafford's midseason turnaround is real. After out-gaining defenses' passer rating averages in just two of the Lions' first eight games, Stafford has done so five times in the final seven games. Notably, Stafford hasn't been throwing for as many yards, as he's finally getting some help from the running game (more on that later).
Detroit now ranks 13th in passer rating (93.5), t-20th in yards per attempt (7.0) and seventh in completion percentage (66.1 percent). However, over the past seven weeks, all of those numbers are much higher:
Since bye week, Matthew Stafford ranks 2nd in cmp % (69.7), T-3 in TD/INT ratio (16/2) & 4th in QB rtg (108.7) pic.twitter.com/73cbwXkrcd— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 29, 2015
The Bears pass defense has actually been pretty solid throughout the season. They've held seven of 15 quarterbacks below their passer rating average and nine of 15 below their yards per game average. But there are a few caveats here. First, over the past three weeks, Chicago has not defended the pass well at all. Secondly, their low yardage numbers are at least partially a result of their poor run defense. Opponents aren't passing the ball much against Chicago as a result. Teams are only averaging 31.5 passing attempts against the Bears, the second-fewest in the league.
Chicago ranks 23rd in passer rating allowed (97.7), 20th in yards per attempt (7.5), and 13th in completion percentage allowed (62.2 percent). They also have just 31 sacks on the year (t-22nd) and eight interceptions (t-27th).
In the last matchup, Stafford had one of his best games of the season, tallying 391 net passing yards and four touchdowns.
Player to watch: Calvin Johnson. Get ready for a broadcast full of Megatron narratives. The cameras are going to be on him all day and he'll likely be the main focus of the announcers, whether he's having a good game or not. While I personally think Johnson is almost assuredly going to be back in Detroit next year, the questions won't stop until it's official.
Advantage: Lions +1.5. Detroit dominated this matchup the last time the two teams met, and the Lions offense has only gotten better since. The Bears defense has had their moments, but they've struggled down the stretch. Weather will probably prevent the Lions from going off like they did in Detroit, but they should still have an efficient day.
Lions run offense (26th) vs. Bears run defense (32nd)
Two months ago, the Lions had the worst running game in the league by a wide margin. Since then, they have pulled themselves out of the bottom five, now ranking 26th in DVOA. It isn't all good news, however. Detroit has still only surpassed defense's YPC allowed average in just three games this season. Last week, they fell back to reality, averaging just 3.1 YPC, their lowest average since Week 10.
Throughout the season, Detroit is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry (t-24th) and earning first downs on 20.1 percent of carries (25th). Those numbers are big improvements from earlier in the year, but they're still pretty bad.
Chicago's run defense has an inverse trajectory from their pass defense. After an awful start to the season (only held one team below their YPC average in the first 12 games), they have been quite stout over the final three weeks.
Despite the strong play as of yet, this Bears run defense ranks out terribly. They're allowing 4.5 YPC (t-27th) and 24.0 percent of rushes earn first downs against this defense (27th). Strangely, however, Chicago does not seem to allow many big plays on the ground. They have ceded just five rushes of 20+ yards (fourth-fewest) and one of 40+ yards. While Chicago deserves credit for preventing big gains on the ground, this also paints a worse picture of a defense that is allowing 4.5 YPC despite not allowing big plays that would skew that number even higher.
Player to watch: Jeremiah Ratliff. Since the Bears placed nose tackle Eddie Goldman on injured reserve earlier in the week, it will be up to Ratliff to man the center of the defense. Ratliff hasn't played since the last time the Bears played the Lions. However, Lions center Travis Swanson is battling an injury of his own and may not be able to play. If not, the battle of the backups will be key in this matchup.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. Both units have played better as of late, but Chicago's has been much worse over the course of the season. I don't really expect the Lions to run all over the Bears like they did back in Week 6, but the Detroit will certainly try. This may be the most important matchup in the game.
Bears pass offense (11th) vs. Lions pass defense (21st)
* You can go ahead and ignore this row. That's Jimmy Clausen's stats.
Jay Cutler has had a very inconsistent season. After a very slow start to the season, he's turned the Bears' pass offense around a bit, but the team is still prone to a bad game here and there.
Overall, Chicago ranks among the league's middle. The Bears are 18th in passer rating (90.1), t-15th in yards per attempt (7.2) and t-15th in completion percentage (63.4 percent). Cutler's elusiveness has helped keep the Bears' sack numbers down (29 sacks allowed, 21st in NFL) and Jay has been good at protecting the ball, throwing just eight interception this season.
The Lions' defensive rebound is easy to see above, but you can also see a bit of a regression over the past two weeks. After a good first two quarters against the Saints, the Lions defense has been sliced up over the past three halves.
Overall, the Lions' defensive stats are pretty ugly, held down by their awful start to the season. Detroit is allowing a passer rating of 101.8 (30th), 7.6 yards per attempt (t-21st) and a 67.9 completion percentage (29th). They also have the fewest interceptions in the league, with just six all year.
Player to watch: Zach Miller. Last time the two teams met, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett led the Bears in receiving yards. Chicago will be without both players this time around, so Miller will likely be Cutler's favorite target. Miller has 211 receiving yards in the past three game. (Note: Miller, too, is battling a toe injury). If Miller can't go, expect Marquess Wilson to get the majority of the targets.
Advantage: Bears +0.5. Although Chicago's offense is decimated by injuries, Cutler has been good enough to compensate all season. Additionally, the Lions defense has not played well lately. The end result is a pretty even matchup.
Bears run offense (5th) vs. Lions run defense (16th)
The Bears run offense has also been a bit inconsistent. Though they've reached at least 80 yards rushing in every game this season, their efficiency has varied wildly all year. Overall, they've surpassed yardage averages in six of 15 games and YPC averages in just three of 15. However, there's a lot of yellow on this chart. Football Outsiders has this unit ranked as fifth-best in the league. I see them more around the 10-15 range.
Chicago ranks t-19th in YPC (3.9) and 12th in percentage of rushes earning first down (23.0).
Detroit run defense has been solid all year, with a few big outliers scattered across the season, including two poor performances in the past three weeks. Overall, still, they've allowed just four of 15 opponents to outgain their seasonal YPC average.
As a team, the Lions rank t-18th in YPC allowed (4.2) and t-17th in percentage of rushes earning first downs allowed (22.3 percent). Modest stats for a decent defense.
Player to watch: Jeremy Langford. Matt Forte is battling through a back injury, so the Bears may decide to give the workload to their rookie. Langford has been up for the task lately, rushing for a season-high 83 yards (at 4.4 yards per carry) last week against the Buccaneers.
Advantage: Bears +0.5. I think the Lions' run defense has been underrated all year. I do respect the Bears' run offense, but Chicago's starting center, Hroniss Grasu, has not practiced this week (as of Thursday). This will be another key matchup to the game.
Off Paper: Motivation. The Bears don't really have a ton of motivation to win this game. Expectations were fairly low going into the season, so the first year coaching staff is not on the hot seat. The Lions, however, are on the verge of an offseason that could see tremendous turnaround in the front office and roster alike. Players and coaches will be playing for their jobs.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper moved to 9-6 on the year and is looking to clinch the AFC South this week. I predicted a fairly accurate 24-13 Lions victory. Detroit would end up winning 32-17.
In the comment section we had a FIVE WAY TIE! Here are you weekly winners and their predictions, all three points off the actual score:
- Things Of That Nature: 35-17 Lions
- DatsZetter: 33-15 Lions
- John Cherette: 35-17 Lions
- steve52: 35-17 Lions
- JayBDet: 32-14 Lions
This week's prediction:
The Lions edge the Bears with a minor +1 advantage. I see this game playing out a lot like it did the last time the two teams meet. Both defenses are not playing very well right now, and even though both teams are suffering some key injuries on offense, I think this game will trend toward a shootout. Of course, weather and field conditions may mitigate some of that, so I'm not going to predict as high of a score as their 38-35 Week 6 game. Instead, let's go with 27-24 Lions.