Wow, det writers' theme is right, but history sucks
PAT CAPUTO: For the Detroit Lions, a return trip to the playoffs will go through the Chicago Bears
Published: Sunday, June 10, 2012
By Pat Caputo
Determining traditional rivalries is not difficult for the Lions.
They have been playing the Green Packers and the Chicago Bears ever since moving to Detroit from Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1934.
The Minnesota Vikings are an expansion team, but that expansion happened more than five decades ago — in 1961.
In recent years, the Packers have been, by far, the best team in the NFC North. As such, much of the focus has been on the Packers, the only team from the division (or the old NFC Central) to ever win the Super Bowl, ***WHAT?!??!****the most recent less than two years ago. While the Packers remain the standard for the Lions, it could be the Bears who will be their most important division foe in 2012.
The Bears were beaten by the Packers in the NFC title game after the 2010 season. The Bears began slowly last season. They were 2-3 after five games, including a Monday Night loss to the Lions at Ford Field. Then, they won five straight games, including an impressive destruction of the Lions at Soldier Field. Chicago quarterback Jay Culter was playing very well, but was injured trying to make a tackle against San Diego. Bears backup QB Caleb Hanie, who had played well in the NFC title game when Cutler was hurt, did not prove to be ready for the task regularly. The Bears lost five games in a row with Cutler sidelined.
There was a second NFC North team in the playoffs other than the Packers, but it was the Lions, not the Bears. Actually, the Bears have just made one playoff appearance in the five seasons since they lost to the Colts in the Super Bowl.
Yet, while the Lions have been hamstrung by the NFL salary cap, the Bears were able to make a couple splashes in the offseason. The team acquired receiver Brandon Marshall, who teamed with Cutler effectively in Denver a few years ago, and running back Michael Bush, a bruising runner, who should compliment Matt Forte, one of the NFL’s top rushers, very well.
Also, there was more sizzle in the Bears’ draft. Chicago’s first two picks in the draft, defensive end Shea McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, are anticipated to contribute immediately. It’s not expected the Lions will get as much immediate impact from their 2012 draft class.
Subsequently, the first preseason magazines released have the Bears finishing ahead of the Lions, in second place in the NFC North, behind the Packers. They also have the Bears, not the Lions, reaching the playoffs as a wild-card team. One of the magazines, Pro Football Weekly, has the Lions compiling just a 9-7 record.
The Bears do have some good parts to their team. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs both performed well last season, and didn’t show signs of age. Forte got hurt, but combined with Bush, the Bears should have a formidable running attack, one that is certainly better than the Lions, whose rushing game seems in disarray because Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best are trying to bounce back from injuries.
Also, Mike Martz wore out his welcome as the Bears’ offensive coordinator (should familiar?), and has been replaced by former Vikings head coach Mike Tice. It is being viewed as one of those “addition-by-subtraction” things.
I still consider the Lions a better team than the Bears. The reason is simple: Cutler is good quarterback, but the Lions’ Matthew Stafford is a great quarterback. Granted, that might be premature, but it sure appeared that way based on the way Stafford performed in 2011. Also, take quarterbacks out of the equation, and Lions’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson is arguably the best offensive player in the NFL.
The Lions have some issues in the back seven of their defense, particularly in the secondary, but their defensive line is capable of covering up some of those flaws better than it did late last season and during a playoff loss to the Saints.
The Lions have a lot of younger players, who figure to improve at this stage of their careers, while the Bears have some older player, who might start to decline.
The two teams will have a big stage when they meet. They play on Monday night again, this time in Chicago. The regular season finale will be at Ford Field.
It should be fun, especially given the long, storied history these two franchises share.
Other then that glarring omission about the 85 Bears SB; and the TB SB after they left the NFCN, he's dead on. The Det chances of the playoffs run through Chicago and the Bears. Gonna be a fun year.