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Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears preview: On Paper

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Our preview and prediction of this week's matchup between the Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Week 4 is here and with it comes the shedding of 2015 stats. No longer will we have endlessly long charts based on rosters that were completely different from the 2016 version of these teams. Unfortunately, that leaves us with very little data to run with, but that’s where reality stands. Even though we’re three games in, we still know very little about what these teams are or what they’ll look like in December.

That being said, there are some disturbing trends with both the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears through the first three games. Both teams don’t seem to have any semblance of a defense, while Chicago’s injuries have them limited on offense. But we’ll get into all that later. Let’s start at the beginning.

[Note: We are now using Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings from 2016. However, Football Outsiders doesn’t truly adjust their statistics against the opponents’ defense until after Week 4. Therefore we’ll have a much better idea of true rankings next week]

Lions pass offense (4th in DVOA) vs. Bears pass defense (26th)

We’ve spent all week gushing about Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense, and this chart is living proof that Stafford has been impressive all year. Even his "bad" game against Titans met defensive averages. Now, it’s also worth pointing out that the games Stafford lit up the scoreboard were against fairly low ranked defenses. Still, as the chart shows, Stafford did even better than the defense’s already high averages.

Where the Lions pass offense still appears vulnerable is in pass protection. Detroit has been sacked eight times this season, which is ninth-most in the league.

It’s not all that surprising the Bears have held opponents to low pass yard totals, as opponents have been playing with a lead almost the entire game against them. The Bears have faced the fourth-fewest pass attempts in the league, so don’t read too much into that column.

The passer rating column is much more telling. Opposing quarterbacks have been able to move up and down the field with ease against this hurting Bears defense. In total, Chicago ranks 23rd in passer rating allowed (97.5), 16th in yards per attempt allowed (7.2) and t-24th in completion percentage allowed (66.7 percent). While those numbers don’t seem too bad, remember that the Bears have faced two rookie quarterbacks in Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott, and a first-year starter in Brock Osweiler. Not exactly world beaters.

One big problem with the Bears pass defense is their lack of a pass rush. They only have four total sacks through three games (sixth fewest).

Player to watch: Marvin Jones. How could I go with anyone other than the league’s leading receiver through three weeks? The Bears secondary is hurting without the help of Kyle Fuller, but Jacoby Glenn has played pretty well for the Bears thus far.

Advantage: Lions +3. The Bears pass defense may not be quite as bad as advertised, but they aren’t exactly good either. This may be the best passing offense they’ve faced thus far, and that could mean another ugly game for Chicago.

Lions run offense (9th) vs. Bears run defense (26th)

This chart is pretty shocking considering how bad the Lions running game was last year. Still, I’m not quite sure I believe it. The Packers run defense is averaging some unsustainable numbers, so I imagine the Lions’ Week 3 performance will be red in the near future.

That being said, the Lions running game was going full speed through two weeks, but without Ameer Abdullah, the future of this rushing attack is still very much unknown. Seventh-round rookie Dwayne Washington has looked pretty solid in spot duty, but the youngster still only has 16 career carries. We need to pump the brakes a little before we go creating another running back hype train.

Much like their passing chart, the Bears have one good performance against the Eagles sandwiched by two poor performances, including a beatdown in Dallas. The high rushing numbers, again, are to be expected considering most of the offenses are playing with a lead against the Bears, but the real problem is the yards per carry average.

The Bears are only allowing 4.0 yards per carry (t-14th), but they are also allowing 24.1 percent of rushes to earn a first down (23rd).

Player to watch: Jerrell Freeman. The Bears inside linebacker has been the lone bright spot on a shaky defense. Freeman has been a tackling machine ranking second among linebackers with 34 tackles. Freeman is a big reason why the Bears defense has only allowed two rushes of 20+ yards and none over 40.

Advantage: Lions +1. The charts force me to give the advantage to the Lions here, but I have very little confidence in the veracity of these charts through three weeks. I think if the Lions do have an advantage here, it is minimal. Don’t expect Washington to go for 100 yards or anything crazy like that.

Bears pass offense (25th) vs. Lions pass defense (32nd)

This is easily the most surprising chart in this week’s column. The Bears pass offense has been stagnant when looking from a distance. They’ve only thrown for three touchdowns with two interceptions. Their 7.2 yards per attempt is just t-19th in the league, and Jay Cutler has been gone for the past five quarters.

But at least part of the low production has been due to the strength of the defenses they’ve faced thus far. In terms of passer rating allowed, the Bears have faced the third and seventh ranked defenses. They’ve managed to outgain the averages of these tight defenses, suggesting that maybe they are really an average unit or perhaps even slightly above.

Their overall numbers are still very pedestrian with a passer rating of 85.7 (19th) and a completion percentage of 62.6 (18th), but again, you have to consider the defenses they’ve played. Believe it or not, this has been an above average pass offense so far.

Which is bad news for the Lions, because their pass defense is accurately ranked last in the league by Football Outsiders. Detroit has given up passer ratings above 100 in three straight weeks despite the fact that each quarterback is averaging a rating below 100 for the season.

No matter where you look on the stat sheet, it is bad news for this pass defense. Detroit ranks 32nd in passer rating allowed (120.2), 25th in yards per attempt (8.0), 27th in completion percentage (68.3) and 32nd in passing touchdowns allowed (10). This defense is playing really, really bad football right now.

Player to watch: Alshon Jeffery. For a struggling Bears offense, Jeffery has been the go-to guy to get Chicago out of a pinch. With 271 receiving yards through three games, Jeffery is responsible for 27.6 percent of the Bears’ total offense. Darius Slay has been okay through three games, but he may face his biggest test this week.

Advantage: Bears +2. The charts say people are underrating the Bears pass offense, but even if Chicago is as mediocre, or even below average when passing the ball, they would have the advantage in this matchup. The Lions pass defense is god awful right now and I don’t think the return of rookie linebacker Antwione Williams will do much to help.

Bears run offense (30th) vs. Lions run defense (27th)

Jeremy Langford and the Bears running game has been a huge disappointment through three weeks. It’s not all that surprising considering all of the moving parts on the offensive line and the loss of Matt Forte, but they still haven’t met expectations.

The Bears have the third-fewest rushing yards through three weeks, and that has to be concerning when you see that each of their opponents are allowing 4.3 yards per carry or more on the season.

Chicago's hope lies in rookie Jordan Howard, who has looked promising in his 12 carries. With Langford out for a month or two, Howard will become the workhorse back with newly acquired traitor veteran Joique Bell as the change-of-pace back.

The Lions run defense hasn’t been quite as horrible as their pass defense, but it hasn’t exactly been good, either. They’ve yet to hold an opponent below their YPC average and while they limited the Colts to just 82 yards in Week 1, a lot of that has to do with the Colts falling behind 21-3 early in the game.

Through three weeks the Lions are allowing 5.1 YPC (t-last) and are ceding first downs on 28.4 percent of rushes (27th). So to surmise, the Lions run defense is almost as bad as the pass defense.

Player to watch: Cody Whitehair. The Bears’ starting rookie center has had mostly positive reviews through three weeks. Though the Lions’ defensive line hasn’t been very good through three weeks, they still possess some manpower in the middle of the line.

Advantage: Bears +0.5. The Bears don't have much of a running game, and they'll be relying on a rookie with only 12 carries and a player added just a few days ago. But Detroit's defense is such a dumpster fire that it's hard to give the Lions an advantage here.

Last week's prediction:

Had the Lions not added a late touchdown, On Paper's prediction of 34-20 would have been exactly correct. However, that still counts as a win, so the column is now 2-1 on the year and 2-0-1 against the spread.

In the comment section, we had a new record. Many times, we have had someone in the comment section guess the score exactly, but never have we had someone do it on the very first comment of the article. earlygravelions ended that streak last Friday as his 34-27 prediction was perfect. Here is your prize, earlygravelions:

on paper week 3 champ

This week's prediction:

The Lions come out with a +1.5 advantage. That's a fairly slim margin, especially when you consider the Bears will be at home. Although, it should be noted that Soldier Field has not exactly been kind to the Bears lately. In fact, the Bears haven't won a home game since Week 4 of 2015.

Still, this is a battle between two terrible defenses. The Lions have the better offense, so they get the advantage in what should be another shootout. Lions 37, Bears 31.