The Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears are about to play a meaningful football game on Jan. 1. Not April 1, but on the actual first day of the year in the second-to-last game of the season.
Granted, the Bears are horrible, having lost eight straight games to fall to 3-12 on the season. And the 7-8 Lions, who will host Sunday’s tilt, aren’t exactly great. But FiveThirtyEight gives Detroit a 24% chance to make the playoffs, which is right in line with the three other teams (Commanders, Seahawks, and Packers, whom the Lions will face in the regular-season finale) vying for the NFC’s seventh and final postseason spot.
If you’re feeling good about Dan Campbell’s squad getting to that point for the first time since 2016, BetRivers has the Lions priced at +365 to be among the wild card teams.
Most of Michigan’s mobile sportsbooks have the Lions favored by 6 points to knock off the Bears, with SI Sportsbook’s 4.5-point spread a curious outlier. It makes sense, then, that the best moneyline value for a Lions backer (-250) can be found at that same book.
The over/under ranges from 52 (BetMGM, BetRivers) to 52.5 (FanDuel, SI) — in either case, the highest total of this week’s NFL slate. That’s mostly because both teams’ defenses stink, ranking 31st (Bears) and 32nd (Lions) per game in points allowed, 24th (Bears) and 32nd (Lions) in total yards allowed, and 28th (Lions) and 30th (Bears) in rushing yards allowed. But while the Lions’ defense ranks 30th in passing yards allowed per game, the Bears are a respectable 12th (209.1 ypg) in the league.
Per BetRivers, the Lions have covered the spread in eight consecutive games against NFC North rivals, and the total has gone over in each of Detroit’s last six games as a home favorite.
Call it a comeback for Goff
The last time Detroit and Chicago squared off, on Nov. 13 at Soldier Field, the Lions came away with a 31-30 victory after a 21-point fourth quarter that included a pick-six by Jeff Okudah.
In that game, Chicago quarterback Justin Fields went bonkers, passing for 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running for 147 yards and an additional two scores. With a backfield augmented by David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, the Bears amassed 258 yards on the ground on 7.4 yards per carry. Fields, who gained more than 11 yards per carry against Detroit, averages nearly 7 on the season. He has rushed for 1,011 yards — good for seventh among all NFL players and first by a long shot among signal-callers.
While Chicago’s offense ranks first in the league in rushing, it ranks dead last in passing yardage. This is due in large part to a scheme that’s tailored to Fields’ strengths, but this sort of imbalance, coupled with the Bears’ crummy receiving corps, affords any team — even one as porous against the run as the Lions — an opportunity to load up the box and dare Chicago to win by passing.
Detroit’s ability to contain Fields and his cohorts would receive a boost if Aidan Hutchinson — the 8/1 second choice (behind Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner) at BetMGM and BetRivers to be named Defensive Rookie of the Year — continues his rapid development on the edge.
With only 439 rushing yards in 12 games this season, D’Andre Swift has been a major disappointment in a Lions backfield that’s relied largely on the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running style of human jackhammer Jamaal Williams (850 yards rushing on 3.8 yards per carry). Thankfully, quarterback Jared Goff has been a revelation this season, passing for nearly 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions.
Considered by many to have been custodial filler in the Matthew Stafford trade, Goff has instead emerged as one of the favorites to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award while his injured predecessor mulls retirement. At odds of 7/1, Goff is currently the fourth favorite behind Saquon Barkley, Geno Smith, and Christian McCaffrey to claim the award, and if he can sneak Detroit into the playoffs, he might well pull off the upset.
Photo: Matt Marton/USA TODAY