December 9, 2016
Warning: Anything goes in
historic Lions-Bears rivalry
By KEITH GAVE
Beware Da Bears.
Pay no attention to the NFC standings. The Detroit Lions have their work cut out for them Sunday when the Bears come out of hibernation to visit Ford Field. Yes, on paper it looks like a mismatch. The Lions have won four straight and, at 8-4, look like a cinch to represent their division in the NFL’s post-season while Da Bears have a firm grip on last place at 3-9.
Which pretty much explains why the Lions opened at a 7.5-point favorite on a line that hasn’t moved much all week. But we should know better by now, eh? One of the NFL’s oldest rivalries is also one of the least predictable. Doesn’t matter where these teams are in the standings, we almost always get a well-contested game – and often it’s the underdog coming away with the victory.
We need to look no further than the first game between these teams this season, when Chicago took advantage of a rare poor outing from Matthew Stafford and won, 17-16. Since then, however, the teams have been heading in opposite directions: The Bears are 2-6, the Lions are 7-1.
Both teams, however, are coming off impressive victories – the Lions winning on the road, 28-13, at New Orleans in one of their biggest wins in years, and the Bears dominating a really bad San Francisco team, 26-6, at Soldier Field.
The Bears, with an active front four that can make life miserable for any quarterback, have one of the most consistent defenses in the NFL. Detroit’s offensive line will be challenged as heartily as it has been all year to keep Stafford on his feet long enough to make plays.
Meantime, Detroit’s defense – which played so spectacularly in holding Saints quarterback Drew Brees & Co. without a passing touchdown last week – face another steady one-two punch in emerging quarterback Matt Barkley and rookie running back Jordan Howard. Barkley earned his first win as an NFL starter last week, but nearly upset Tennessee the week before with a fourth-quarter comeback that included two touchdown passes before falling short. Howard ran for 117 yards and three touchdowns Sunday against San Francisco.
To be sure, that tandem doesn’t match the Brees/Mark Ingram duo the Saints threw at Detroit last week. Ingram, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Flint, ran for just 37 yards in seven carries.
We keep saying this, but only because it’s true: These are the kinds of games the Lions historically found a way to lose – against a seemingly lesser, divisional opponent after what seemed like an emphatic statement game at New Orleans.
So far, though, Lions have managed to avoid those kinds of pratfalls this season. Perhaps we’re witnessing a kind of maturation process of this team under coach Jim Caldwell’s tutelage. They didn’t get too low after starting the season 1-3, and they’re not allowing themselves to get too high in the midst of one of their most satisfying winning streaks in a long time.
There is a workmanlike attitude about this team that should be getting more love from a blue-collar town dying for a winning football club. They should be out in full-force in a Ford Field crowd that, like always, will feature thousands of Bears fans. Both teams in this neighborhood tussle have a following that travels well.
Neither the Lions nor their fans need to be reminded how important this game is. A win would put them at 9-4 and make catching them very difficult for either Green Bay or Minnesota. More important, Detroit might have the toughest finish of any of the playoff contenders: at the New York Giants, at Dallas and against the Packers to close the regular season on New Year’s Day.
A loss Sunday and the hand-wringing begins; all bets are off. But that’s not going to happen.
PREDICTION: Lions prevail in a tight, low-scoring game, 19-13