Three games into the season, the Chicago Bears are undefeated but have a big test this week as they travel to Detroit with first place in the NFC North on the line.
The Lions enter the game with a 2-1 overall record, 1-0 in the NFC North after defeating Minnesota in Week 1. Their two wins are already half of what they got in 2012 as their offense is looking explosive and their defense is much improved.
Detroit is fourth in total offense and sixth in scoring at just over 27 points per game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has a passer rating near 100 and receiver Calvin Johnson is as dangerous as ever. Led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, their defense is 18th in yards given up and 16th in scoring.
For more insight on this big NFC North game, I reached out to Detroit Lions Featured Columnist Jeff Risdon. In addition to writing for B/R, Jeff has been the Senior NFL Writer and Draft Analyst at RealGM.com since 2004. He's also the editor at DetroitLionsDraft.com, and has contributed to The Sporting News, NFL's Future and several other sites along the way.
Here are some of Risdon's thoughts heading into the game:
What is something you’re concerned about with the Lions facing the Bears?
"The biggest concern is protecting the football. The Bears are so effective at extricating the football, and they have multiple players who are good at it.
"Detroit hasn’t turned the ball over much, but Brandon Pettigrew, Reggie Bush and even Calvin Johnson have shown poor ball security at times. I think the Bears defense gets into opponent’s heads with their great ability to produce [turnovers], too. And that can throw off execution."
Yes, the Chicago defense is once again showing a knack for taking the ball away, however the Lions haven't given it up much this season. The Bears have come to count on taking it away a few times each game, and they'll be trying again this Sunday. The Lions better make sure they put two hands on the ball.
What is one area you think the Lions can exploit in the matchup?
"One matchup I think the Lions can exploit is the defensive ends against the Bears offensive tackles. Chicago has upgraded, but so has Detroit.
"Willie Young and Ziggy Ansah are both playing very well. They can both win with power inside or speed around the edge. Jermon Bushrod had some problems with Michael Johnson in the Cincinnati game, and Ansah is both stronger and faster than Johnson. It’s not like the interior offensive linemen can help, or else that isolates Suh and Nick Fairley on the guards, and that’s an even worse proposition for Chicago."
With all due respect to Ansah, he's not anywhere near as good of a player as Johnson. At least, not yet.
Bushrod also did a respectable job against Jared Allen, outside of one play. Mills held up against both Cincinnati and Minnesota, whose right defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Brian Robison are no slouches.
The Bears faced a better defensive line in Week 1 and a comparable one in Week 2. The big difference is that this will be on the road and on turf. They'll likely use tight ends and running backs to chip, but they should be able to keep the Detroit defensive ends in check.
Who do you think wins and why?
"I think the Lions will win 24-20, with two caveats: The turnover battle has to be even or better for Detroit, and Chicago doesn’t get a non-offensive score. Either of those happen, and the Bears go home winners."
The Lions are a much improved team this year, and their fans have every right to be confident. But let's not forget that the Bears have an offense, too.
Even if you took their three defensive scores away, they'd be averaging almost 25 points per game. That's after playing two of the 10 best defenses in the league.
My concern is: Can the Bears can keep the Lions off the board? Still, I'm taking the Bears 31-28.