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NFL Preview - Chicago (6-9) at Detroit (2-13)



By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - As their NFC North rivals the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers ready themselves for the playoffs, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are locked into their status as the third- and fourth-best teams in that division, respectively.

Thus, the objective as the two clubs get set to square off at Ford Field on Sunday will be carrying some momentum into what will be a critical offseason for each struggling club.

The Bears come off their most positive moment of an otherwise bitterly disappointing 2009 season, a thrilling 36-30 overtime victory over the division champion Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field this past Monday. Lovie Smith's club watched a 23-6 lead morph into a 30-30 tie when Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw a touchdown pass to Sidney Rice in the final minute of regulation.

But it was Favre's counterpart, the beleaguered Jay Cutler, who would have the final word in OT, lofting a perfectly-thrown deep ball to formerly anonymous wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, who went 39 yards to the end zone to give Chicago its sixth victory of the season, and just its third in a span of 11 games.

Cutler arguably had his finest day of the year in the victory, completing 20- of-35 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns against just one interception. Aromashodu, once buried on the team's depth chart, finished with seven catches for 150 yards and the decisive score.

The victory helped quiet speculation that Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo would be fired at season's end, though a loss to the two-win Lions on Sunday might arouse that discussion among the Bears' fan base once again.

The Lions' goal on Sunday will be to halt a five-game losing streak and be able to point to a three-game seasonal improvement over last year's dubiously historic 0-16 campaign.

Detroit comes off a 20-6 loss at San Francisco last week, as former third- string quarterback Drew Stanton failed to make much of a mark in his first NFL start. The Michigan State product was 11-of-21 passing for 130 yards and three interceptions in the setback, and was benched late in favor of frequent QB fill-in Daunte Culpepper.

Culpepper was a better 7-of-12 for 51 yards off the bench, but it is unclear whether he will be back in the starting lineup this week. The veteran is 0-9 as Detroit's starter over the past two seasons, including 0-4 this season, and hasn't won since he led the Raiders to a 20-17 win at the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 25, 2007.

With a loss to the Bears on Sunday and a win by the Rams against the 49ers, Detroit could earn itself the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Both the Lions and Rams would be 2-14 under that scenario, and the tie would be broken based on strength-of-schedule once the season draws to a close.

SERIES HISTORY

Chicago leads the all-time series with Detroit, which dates back to the 1930 season, 90-64-5, and has won three in a row including a 48-24 home win in Week 4. The Bears swept last year's home-and-home, including a 34-7 triumph at Ford Field in Week 5. The Lions swept the 2007 home-and-home, including a 37-27 win in the Motor City.

Smith is 7-4 against the Lions as a head coach, while Detroit's Jim Schwartz is 0-1 against both Smith and Chicago as a head man.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

Cutler (3390 passing yards, 23 TD, 26 INT), who has looked uncomfortable at times in the Bears offense and has still thrown the most interceptions in the league, will try to do something on Sunday that he has done infrequently in his first year as a Bear - stack strong performances. Cutler's four touchdown passes against the Vikings went to four different players, with tight ends Greg Olsen (55 receptions, 7 TD) and Desmond Clark (17 receptions, 1 TD) joining Aromashodu (19 receptions, 2 TD) and fellow wideout Earl Bennett (51 receptions, 2 TD) in the scoring column. Running back Matt Forte' (828 rushing yards, 4 TD, 54 receptions) also added some value with 74 yards on 21 carries, but is still a sizeable 172 yards from 1,000 for the year. Forte's lone 100- yard game this season came against the Lions in Week 4, when he carried 12 times for 121 yards and a score. Among the injured Chicago players, wideout Devin Hester (54 receptions, 3 TD) is questionable after missing the last four games with a calf problem. The Bears o-line has allowed 33 sacks on the year, but only two of those came on Monday night.

As it did in piling up 48 points against the Lions last time out, Chicago should be able to have a productive offensive day against a Detroit club that is last in NFL scoring defense (30.5 points per game), passing defense (265.4 yards per game), touchdowns allowed (53), touchdown passes allowed (31), and opponents' completion percentage (68.6). The secondary has struggled in coverage all season, with cornerbacks Anthony Henry (44 tackles, 2 INT) and William James (68 tackles, 2 INT) a liability in that area and a deficient pass rush managing just 24 sacks all year. Rookie safety Louis Delmas (89 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) has been one of the team's few credits to the cause against the pass, and has also been helpful against the run. To that end, the Lions are 24th in NFL rushing defense (125 yards per game), with linebackers Larry Foote (99 tackles, 2 sacks) and DeAndre Levy (73 tackles, 1 INT) ranking among the team leaders in tackles and veteran DT Grady Jackson (32 tackles) still a factor at the point of attack.

WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL

No matter who takes the snaps for the Lions on Sunday will be trying to get the football to star receiver Calvin Johnson (898 rushing yards, 4 TD), who despite struggling with injuries and a revolving door at quarterback, is just 102 yards shy of a second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Johnson comes off a seven-catch, 96-yard game against the 49ers, and in his last two meetings against the Bears, has combined for 16 catches, 227 yards and a touchdown. Also likely to get his touches is running back Maurice Morris (319 rushing yards, 2 TD, 21 receptions), who has done a credible job since replacing the injured Kevin Smith (knee) but was limited to 66 yards on 22 total touches last week. The Lions head into Week 17 ranked last in the league in turnovers committed (39), turnover margin (-17), have thrown the most interceptions in the league (31) and are tied for last in the league in fourth-down percentage (25.0), along with the Packers.

Boding well for Culpepper or whoever runs the Lions offense is the depleted state of the Bears defense, which added two more starters to an already-long injured list earlier this week. Tackle Israel Idonije (foot) and cornerback Charles Tillman (bruised lung) were placed on injured reserve, while safeties Al Afalava (knee), Danieal Manning (calf) and Kevin Payne (ankle) are all question marks. Among those that remain, Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs (106 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) and fellow LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (84 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) lead a corps that is a disappointing 26th in the league against the run (128.1 yards per game). Chicago is 12th against the pass (208.9 yards per game), a number that probable starters like safety Craig Steltz (9 tackles) and cornerback Zackary Bowman (61 tackles, 5 INT) will have to help maintain. The Bears had three sacks of the Vikings' Brett Favre on Monday night, with ends Alex Brown (45 tackles, 5 INT) and Mark Anderson (26 tackles, 2.5 sacks) breaking through.

FANTASY FOCUS

Though most fantasy championships were completed last week, those played in Week 17 will undoubtedly be affected by this contest, since starters are almost guaranteed to play for the duration. Cutler is in line for another big day against a weak Lions defense, and Aromashodu, Olsen, Forte' and kicker Robbie Gould are all worth considering as well. On the Lions side, the players with the most value are Johnson, who the team will probably try to get to 1,000 yards, and Morris, who has been an improvement over Kevin Smith.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Short weeks are difficult in the NFL, and if you need further evidence of that fact, go look at what the previous two Monday night winners, the 49ers and Giants, did after playing in that primetime slot. The Bears came out of the Vikings game banged up, and what's more, they are unlikely to show the same type of motivation in a universally ignored game like this one than they did with the world watching on Monday night. The Lions clearly have their problems, but with Culpepper probably in command, they'll be able to circle the wagons and notch their first division win since 2007 against a Bears team that has checked out for the season.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 20, Bears 17

12/31 11:40:56 ET

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