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The Bears' playoff push concludes with a matchup against the divisional foe Detroit Lions. We'll preview the matchup - can the Bears take care of business?
So it's come down to this. The Bears need a win in week 17 to have a chance to make the playoffs, as if they win, they're in should Minnesota lose to Green Bay in the set of games afterwards. Their opponent? They draw the Detroit Lions, a team they played to a 13-7 victory back in week 7 in Chicago. Since then, well... It's not been good for the silver and Honolulu Blue up north.
Since The Last Matchup... The Lions promptly won their next two games to push to .500 (4-4), taking down Seattle and the Jacksonville Jaguars, before the wheels began to fall off. Granted, the schedule may have played some small part in their decline - they've lost to the Packers twice, the Vikings, Houston, the Colts and the Falcons - but rock bottom may have been hit when they dropped Week 15 against the Cardinals, by a score of 38-10. In case you're not following along, the Lions enter Week 17 against the Bears at 4-11, on a seven-game losing streak, with no shot at the playoffs - a harsh decline from their resurgent season of yesteryear.
I'll get back to the game in just a second, but there are a couple things that I want to bring up here, since normally about a week goes by and I don't get to really chime in on much that's currently happening. So with that...
- All three outside linebackers in the NFC Pro Bowl squads are rush backers. Now, really, I don't have a problem with having three rush linebackers in the Pro Bowl, if all those rush backers are having remarkable-enough seasons to warrant it. I can't definitively say that Lance Briggs' exclusion is really warranted, but since it happened, as the roster currently stands, if I were coaching the AFC, I'd work that passing game across those zones with no second thoughts. Coverage, the lost art.
- So, things have been a little chippier between these two teams than normal, eh? To put it mildly, of course. Major Wright unloaded this little gem about Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford:
"You've got Matthew Stafford, he's definitely having an OK season," Wright said. "He can make any throw on that field, so you have to be aware of putting pressure on him because you put a little pressure on him, he kinda folds."
Then Henry Melton, Pro Bowl defensive tackle, put this cross on the chin of the Lions, namely one Dominic Raiola:
"They're dirty," Melton said Wednesday. "They've always been a dirty team since I've been here. I don't like them. We've just got to hold our composure and play the game we know."
Melton also singled out Raiola as the Lions' biggest trash talker: "He's old, and he just talks."
Asked whether Raiola got personal during his trash talking, Melton said, "No, he's more just cuss words. Bad language. Then he'll throw some cheap shots in there, and then he'll say some bad words."
Raiola didn't take so kindly to the exchange:
"I mean, this guy, he made it to the Pro Bowl?" Raiola said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "This guy made the Pro Bowl? (Over the Vikings') Kevin Williams, who worked through injuries all year? (Over Ndamokung) Suh, who's a better player than this guy? Come on.
"It's tiresome, especially from a guy like this, a guy that didn't even play the past two weeks. ... I don't know what to say anymore. In my book, he's a clown."
"You got a defense full of superstars, and you don't hear from the guys that carry weight in my book," Raiola said, according to the Free Press. "(Brian) Urlacher, (Lance) Briggs, (Charles) Tillman, (Israel) Idonije, older guys. (Julius) Peppers. The guys that have been there. We're talking about guys who carry weight. This guy? Not in my book."
This, of course, coming from Dominic Raiola, who apparently carries such authoritative weight with the Pro Bowl voters on all sides that, well, he's never been to a Pro Bowl himself. Apparently he missed the memo that Melton did in fact make it to the Pro Bowl behind his body of work that includes six sacks as a three-tech pass rusher to go with two forced fumbles and several tackles for loss, and did so without coming off as a complete "clown," to use his words, with his conduct on the field. I mean, it's not like he stomped a player, hand-shoved a player's head, landed on a player's shoulder heavily and late, kicked at a player's groin... you get the idea. Those are things your buddy Suh did, Raiola. He's a good player, but those antics don't really sit well with the voters.
Also, wait, you're going to raise up Kevin Williams, "fighting through injury," when you just knocked Melton for missing two games with injury and Melton's stats are far and away better than Kevin Williams.
If you weren't aware, Dom, Melton's limited in practice this week, but if he's able to play, you just might have to back up your words, as opposed to spouting off to a player unable to play. That being said, I'm not the biggest fan of trash talk, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't if there was no chance I'd get on the field. But that being said, Dom, he made the Pro Bowl's initial rosters because the last couple years he's been a good player.
Okay, off that little soapbox. Defensively, Suh is still a really good player despite his, um, on-the-field indiscretions, and Nick Fairley has come along pretty well in his second year (unfortunate he landed on injured reserve, though). And Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch are still rolling pretty well this year - Avril leads the team with 9.5 sacks. The backfield's been pretty well banged up, though. Louis Delmas is questionable (man, good player, but just can't stay healthy), as is Chris Houston, and don't forget Amari Spivey, Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley also all on injured reserve.
Offensively, is there anything to say but Calvin Johnson? Took down Jerry Rice's single season record for receiving yards and still has one game to go. This just in, he's good. Also, Matthew Stafford is in reach of a second 5000-yard season, but he needs 305 to get there. And for leading the league in passing yardage, he's 19th in average yards per attempt and is 24th in yards per completion, with 11.4. The most impressive thing about the last two years for Stafford is that his arm didn't fall off between the nearly 1400 passing attempts so far combined. Also, for his 685 passing attempts this year, 17 touchdowns and a 2.5% TD percentage rank him 32nd, just above Nick Foles and Matt Cassel. Passing yards are probably the most empty statistic out there for ranking quarterbacks, and yet it shows the Lions have the top passing offense in the league.
But, on the flip-side of that coin, the Lions have a sneaky-effective (and actually not awful) running game, since Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell effectively teamed up - Leshoure's rushed for nine touchdowns in his 200 rushes, Bell's added three and Stafford ran in another 4, and the Lions' 17 rushing touchdowns are tied for fourth in the league.
In other news, Brandon Pettigrew is questionable, and Titus Young is on injured reserve with "teammates don't like him," spelled "knee." So it appears his days in Detroit may be over. Rookie Ryan Broyles has been pretty good in picking up the slack, but with Nate Burleson on injured reserve as well and Mike Thomas having only four receptions since being traded for, expect the one-man Calvin Johnson show to muscle his way to two-thousand receiving yards.
If the Bears do this... Work against a depleted secondary, get Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett the ball, and balance with the occasional Kahlil Bell run... Er, on second thought, pass pass pass.
If the Lions do this... Come out with their intensity focused on football, and that front four gets through to Cutler.
In seriousness, I expect nothing less than the Lions to come out and play like it's their last game of the season. And given the animosity of the week, it'll be an emotional one and they'd love nothing more than to keep the Bears out of the playoffs.