The Bears come home after embarrassing themselves against the Browns with perhaps the worst overall offensive performance since the Broncos played with no quarterbacks against the Saints last year. Preseason expectations were sky high for Justin Fields and he underperformed even the most critical doubters’ expectations in his first start (including mine). They play host to a spunky Detroit team that has been more competitive than anyone anticipated against San Francisco, Green Bay, and Baltimore. Uncertainty about the Bears’ quarterback situation dominates the narrative here, but I think that is less significant than most believe.
Numbers with only three weeks of data can be very misleading. But in this case, both teams have faced a fairly equal set of opponents. The Bears deserve a downgrade from the raw numbers with Fields at quarterback, but even factoring in their offensive performance against the Browns, my raw numbers favor Chicago by a comfortable margin.
Baseline: CHI by 5.28
The DET Offense
Jared Goff has outperformed expectation in Detroit thus far, primarily because his offensive line has afforded him solid protection and his receivers have been making plays. But most of his production against San Francisco came after the game was 38-10 and seemingly out of reach. He put some strong drives together against Green Bay’s soft defense until the rain came in and he reverted to classic bad-weather mistake-prone Goff. And he was only able to muster up 17 points against a heavily depleted Ravens front after starting the game with 6 straight punts and digging a 13-0 hole. Consistency has been hard to find.
The Lions are at their best when they can run the ball well and when Goff can make quick passes to his running backs, tight ends, and receivers with room to gain yards. Goff has had a few good deep throws, but even these came on plays where he appeared to make up his mind pre-snap, as he often throws into coverage. This is not a good matchup against a defensive front that has shown strength most recently against another run-heavy team in the Browns. The Browns possess the same strengths as the Lions – an excellent offensive line, two good running backs, and an offense that plays well ahead of the chains. But lost in the clamor of criticism for Nagy and Fields in that game is that the Bears defense played extremely well. To beat the Bears, you have to be able to throw deep and beat their secondary. Stafford did this consistently, Burrow did this once or twice, and Mayfield hardly did it at all. I project that Goff will struggle if the run game does not get going, particularly if weather plays a factor in the Windy City, which is bad news for Detroit. I’d be surprised if the Lions top 20 points in this game.
Projection: DET offense will underperform.
The CHI Offense
It’s amazing how much can change in just a few weeks. I was catching flak on Twitter in preseason for criticizing Fields and saying this was going to be Andy Dalton’s team for a while. Now nobody wants to touch the Bears if Fields plays and Bears backers are hoping for Dalton to be healthy. If it’s Andy Dalton, this is a great matchup for the Bears. He has shown a proclivity for matriculating down the field against weaker defenses, and the Lions qualify. They might be slightly better than preseason expectations, but they are still a below-average defense. They should also get the running game going and that helps.
But even with Fields, I like the Bears this week. Handicapping NFL games is about identifying a difference between perception and reality. The Bears were awful against the Browns. But I think this was a huge wake-up call for Justin Fields. He can no longer maintain the misperception that he can escape the pocket at will in the NFL. He needs to make quicker decisions. But Miles Garrett played the best game of his life. On several third downs, Fields would have escaped the pocket with room to run if not for a freak play by Garrett. I do not believe the Lions possess the speed and power up front to do the same. And while it may be a small difference on the field on any given play, it can absolutely swing a game when a quarterback like Fields can successfully escape the pocket. He showed in the preseason what he is capable of on the run, and I think he will be able to get there against the Lions. Furthermore, Allen Robinson should be able to beat the Lions’ secondary with ease. Together with a more successful run game, this presents a major bounce-back spot for Fields if he does play.
Projection: CHI offense will meet expectations or outperform.
The Game Flow
Most of the Lions points this season have been scored with a deficit. They have not been a particularly fast-starting team. I think the first half will be low-scoring, particularly if the Bears can sustain drives. If it’s close, I ultimately think the Bears will be able to make enough plays to win, at home, in potentially bad weather. If the Bears build a lead, the Lions might score in catch-up mode again against a weak secondary. If, somehow, the Lions build a lead, I think they are not the type of team that can run up the score against a good defensive front. So it would come down to whether the Bears offense can put it together. Not a great spot, but it’s possible. More game scripts favor Chicago than the Lions.
The Bears bounce back in a big way and take care of the plucky Lions. One of my favorite betting angles is to fade a popular narrative. Everybody who watches the NFL thinks that (1) Matt Nagy is the worst coach since Adam Gase and (2) Justin Fields is terrible. Add to that many sharps who see perceived value on the Lions (based mostly on garbage time stats, positive variance such as Ravens Covid issues and myriad drops, and a highly publicized unjustified loss last week), and I think there is a ton of actual value on the Bears this week. Chicago wins, 24-17.
Official: CHI -3 (-105) (2 Units) (FD)
If you can get it: CHI -2.5 (-115)
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