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Sports

November 10, 2013

NFL: Bears, Lions square off in NFC North showdown

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — For a team that looked like it was ready to be buried, the Chicago Bears suddenly have some life. If they beat Detroit, they'll really be in a good spot.

The Bears host the Lions on Sunday in a matchup between two of the three teams tied for the NFC North lead, hoping to strengthen their position in the division race.

"We understand what's at stake, we understand how special this season is for us and what we're capable of doing," Bears receiver Brandon Marshall said. "It doesn't matter who we're up against, we're going to approach it the same."

The Bears are tied with the Lions and Packers at 5-3 after a surprising victory atGreen Bay on Monday night. Now, they can make it back-to-back wins against division rivals at a time when it looked like they were falling apart.

After all, quarterback Jay Cutler is recovering from a groin injury. Star linebacker Lance Briggs is out with a small fracture in his left shoulder. Yet here are the Bears, somehow looking ready to go after knocking Aaron Rodgers out of the game and taking out the Packers, 27-20.

Few would have envisioned that, considering Chicago had dropped three of four and added its two of its most important players to a long injury list. Cutler and Briggs went down in a loss at Washington on Oct. 20, and while Cutler was trying to return this week after sitting out a game, the Bears can take some comfort knowing they have a reliable backup in Josh McCown.

The veteran has completed 59 percent of his passes for 476 yards with a 100.2 rating while filling in and has played turnover-free football.

The Lions, on the other hand, are relatively healthy at the moment and on a roll of their own.

Wide receiver Nate Burleson still is recovering from an arm injury in a car crash, but Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush are in good shape after missing time. And Detroit is coming off a 31-30 victory over Dallas two weeks ago that was nothing short of remarkable.

Matthew Stafford's 1-yard lunge in the closing seconds gave them the win, but it was Johnson who stole the show. His 329 yards receiving were the second-best total in league history and the most ever in regulation. With his fifth 200-yard game, he tied Hall of Famer Lance Alworth's mark.

Now, the Lions will try to complete the sweep against the Bears after beating them in September.

"It's wide open," Bush said. "We still have a chance to do some special things."

Here are five things to watch for as the Lions and Bears try to move ahead of each other in the division:

QB DECISION: While the big question in Chicago this week was who will start at quarterback, the Lions' Ndamukong Suh made one thing clear. He wants Cutler, and it has nothing to do with their history. Or, for that matter, what happened the last time Detroit and Chicago played. Cutler threw three interceptions and got sacked three times, twice by Suh.

Cutler's had his difficulties with Suh in the past. Suh got fined for a forearm hit on Cutler in 2010. The following year, he ripped the quarterback's helmet off during a run at Soldier Field. And last season in Chicago, Suh left Cutler writhing with bruised ribs after a sack.

"I love playing against Cutler, he's a tough guy," Suh said. "No discredit to McCown, but I want the best shot."

MEGATRON, NOT-SO-MEGA NUMBERS: While Johnson's performance against Dallas two weeks ago was one for the record books, it's been a different story for him against the Bears. He's had trouble against Charles Tillman and his numbers against Chicago are far from spectacular. Only twice in 12 games against has he hit the 100-yard mark, and he's averaging about 58 in his last four meetings with them. He did have a touchdown in September, but he finished with just 44 yards in that game.

BUSH'S BEST: Not that the Bears really need a reminder, but they'll have to do a better job against Bush than they did in September. All he did in that game was run for 139 yards and account for 173 in total offense. His 37-yard touchdown run highlighted a 27-point second quarter for Detroit.

"In that game it was a combination of run fits and tackling," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. "So we're going to have to get those things done in order to contain him."

SOME PEP IN THEIR STEP: Julius Peppers showed some of his old spark, and theBears' maligned defensive line made its presence felt in Monday's win over Green Bay. Peppers had what Tucker said was a "classic" interception after tipping the ball at the line early in the game and added his second sack of the season. Shea McClellin had a career-high three sacks, and the Bears came away with five in all.

UNFRIENDLY CONFINES: Detroit will be trying to do something it hasn't done since 2007 — win in Chicago. The Lions have dropped five straight at Soldier Field.

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