NFL Preview - Chicago (5-6) at Detroit (7-4)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Turkey and desperation will be on the menu Thursday in Detroit as the Lions host their annual Thanksgiving Day affair against Chicago, the first time that the two NFC North rivals will meet on the holiday since 1999.
A two-game road losing streak against the NFL's only two 9-2 teams -- Arizona and New England -- has dropped Detroit to 7-4 on the season, one game behind Green Bay for the division lead with five games to play. The Bears, meanwhile, despite winning two consecutive contests, are at 5-6 and have virtually no room for error if they plan on playing postseason football.
The Lions are now tied with Seattle and San Francisco, who also meet on Thanksgiving, for the final NFC wild-card spot.
"I'm not worried about (the) big picture to be honest with you," Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. "I'm worried about our next game and we'll deal with the big picture later on."
The Lions fell by a 34-9 margin in Foxborough in Week 12 as Tom Brady carved up the NFL's then-top-ranked defense, completing 38-of-53 passes for 349 yards.
Matthew Stafford connected on just 18-of-46 passes for 264 yards with four of those completions finding Golden Tate for 97 yards.
"I think any time you lose a game it's a challenge," Stafford said. "You've got to figure out what you did well, figure out what you didn't do well enough and take it into the next game and make sure the mistakes don't continue to happen and build off the positives."
Since scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 29 seconds left during a 20-16 home triumph over Miami back on Nov. 9, the Lions have mustered just five field goals against the defensive-minded Cards and powerful Pats.
"It's one of those games, it's embarrassing," Tate told ESPN about his team's offense. "We've got to chalk it up and have a short-term memory. That's the most important thing, not to lose our swagger, not to lose our confidence."
The Bears haven't been all that impressive in winning back-to-back games against less-than-stellar foes -- Minnesota and Tampa Bay -- by identical 21-13 scores.
Last weekend Chicago scored three straight touchdowns in the third quarter to take the lead, including two by Matt Forte, who finished with 89 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Jay Cutler completed 17-of-27 passes for just 130 yards for the Bears. Alshon Jeffery caught a 2-yard touchdown pass for Chicago's first touchdown in the third quarter.
"We'll take the win, but we have a lot to work on," said Bears head coach Marc Trestman. "We are excited to move forward to Thursday and a Thanksgiving game at Detroit."
The Lions will be playing their 75th Thanksgiving Day game dating back to 1934, while the Bears will be toiling in their 33rd contest on Turkey Day with 15 of those games coming against each other.
Detroit is 7-8 against Chicago on Thanksgiving and 34-38-2 overall, snapping a nine-game skid on the holiday with a 40-10 thumping of the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers last year. The Bears are 16-14-2 on Turkey Day.
Chicago is 96-67-5 against the Lions all-time in one of professional football's oldest rivalries which dates back to 1930 when the Detroit franchise was known as the Portsmouth Spartans.
The two teams will rematch in Chicago on Dec. 21.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Detroit defense is now No. 3 overall after struggling against Brady and Co. in Foxborough, slipping behind Seattle and San Francisco. That said, the group remains No. 1 run against the run, allowing just 70.7 yards per game.
That matches up well with Chicago because it seems like Trestman has scaled things back a bit because of Cutler's inconsistencies, leaning on Forte more and more at least until the red zone when it becomes viable to throw jump balls to Jeffrey, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett.
Perhaps the most well-rounded back in all of football. Forte has 822 rushing yards and 72 catches this year, his seventh consecutive season with at least 800 rushing yards and 40 receptions, joining LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players in NFL history to start a career with seven seasons in a row with those numbers.
Overall the Bears' offense is the definition of ordinary, ranking 16th in a 32-team league by amassing 346.5 ypg.
"We're just trying to focus on what we can do better and that is to be more consistent on offense and to use opportunities to make plays," Trestman said. "We need to do that from start to finish."
The Lions are all about the pass, ranking 10th in the NFL by averaging 251.7 ypg behind Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Tate. The running game, on the other hand, is virtually non-existent, managing just 80.8 ypg on the ground with only Arizona and Oakland worse in the NFL.
Injuries have played a part in that as running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell have both been banged-up at times, while key offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Larry Warford are both dealing with knee injuries.
"Their offense is up and down at times but I'm sure they'll play well on Thursday," Cutler said. "They're reeling a bit, so we're going to get their very best shot. They're going to be ready for this one."
Stafford has passed for 771 yards and five touchdowns in his past two games on Thanksgiving while Johnson is aiming for his sixth game in row on the holiday with a touchdown catch.
Tate, a Notre Dame product who spent the first four seasons of his NFL career in Seattle before signing with the Lions in the offseason, now has 1,047 receiving yards in 2014, becoming the first Detroit receiver other than Johnson to reach that milestone since both Roy Williams (1,310) and Mike Furrey (1,086) did it in 2006.
The Bears defense is ranked 21st in the league, particularly struggling against the pass by allowing 260.5 ypg, 28th in football.
"I think it is good we have a short week," said Stafford. "We have a chance to go out and play again on Thursday against a familiar opponent and on a national stage."
People may be down on the Lions but remember their skid is the result of one of the toughest road stretches of this or any other season against a then 8-1 Cards team and a Pats' bunch that has won 15 straight on its home field.
Returning to Detroit, where the Lions are 4-1 this season, should be the tonic the team needs to start heading back in the right direction.
"That's the great part about coaching: we get to see the team during the good times and also during tough stretches, and how we respond," said Caldwell. "That's what makes a team. That's when you find out the kind of grit you have, the kind of toughness, the kind of leadership - when things aren't going quite as nice as you'd like them, see if they can battle through."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Lions 27, Bears 21
11/27 09:54:08 ET