With the NFL's current longest regular-season winning awaited profile Monday night matchup from Ford Field.
Other than their traditional Thanksgiving Day home games, the Lions haven't appeared in a nationally-televised telecast on a major network since a 35-0 Monday night home loss to St. Louis on Oct. 8, 2001. Of course, Detroit hasn't garnered much success during its absence from the big stage, as the franchise has endured 10 consecutive losing seasons and last made the playoffs in 1999.
This year's Lions appear poised to end both droughts, however. After closing out last season with four straight victories, Detroit has kicked off its 2011 campaign with a 4-0 start and is one of just two remaining unbeaten teams, along with defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay.
The last two wins of the streak, the Lions' longest since a nine-game run from Nov. 7, 1953-Oct. 16, 1954, have come in thrilling and incredible fashion. Detroit overcame a 20-point halftime deficit to record a 26-23 overtime triumph at Minnesota in Week 3, then roared back from a 24-point hole in the third quarter for an improbable 34-31 ousting of Dallas on the road last Sunday.
It marked the first time in NFL history a team has rallied from being down by 20 or more points in back-to-back contests.
"It's definitely something special," said Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch following last week's achievement. "There's not many teams that would have kept believing and kept fighting."
The Lions outscored the Cowboys 17-0 in the fourth quarter, with quarterback Matthew Stafford connecting with prolific wide receiver Calvin Johnson on a pair of touchdown passes during the final period. The final one gave Detroit the lead with 1:39 left to play.
Johnson has now come up with two scoring catches in each of the first four weeks, which ties Cris Carter's NFL record for multiple touchdown grabs in consecutive games.
Off to its best beginning since opening up 6-0 in 1956, Detroit hasn't tasted defeat since a 24-20 loss to the eventual NFC North champion Bears at Ford Field on Dec. 5, 2010.
Chicago's initial stretch of 2011 has been considerably more up-and-down than its opponent this week. The Bears have split their first four outings against a challenging early schedule in which they've taken on three postseason participants (Atlanta, New Orleans, Green Bay) from last season.
The Bears fell to 1-2 following losses to the high-powered Saints and Packers, but bounced back with a hard-fought 29-24 home verdict over improving Carolina last Sunday. Despite allowing 543 total yards to the upstart Panthers, Chicago prevailed behind a 205-yard rushing output from running back Matt Forte and touchdowns on both defense and special teams, including return dynamo Devin Hester's 69-yard score on a punt runback in the third quarter.
While still in search of their first winning streak of 2011, the Bears do enter Monday's clash having bested the Lions six consecutive times.
Chicago leads the all-time series with Detroit, which dates back to the 1930 season, by a 93-64-5 count and as previously mentioned, has won the last six bouts between the storied rivals. In addition to their four-point verdict at Ford Field last December, the Bears posted a controversial 19-14 decision over the Lions at Soldier Field in last year's season opener, in which a potential go-ahead touchdown catch by Detroit's Calvin Johnson in the final seconds was overturned on replay. Chicago also put together home-and-home sweeps of Detroit in both 2008 and 2009, with the Lions taking both meetings in 2007 that included a 37-27 victory in the Motor City.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
A Chicago offense that was heavily pass-oriented over the first three games went to a more run-heavy approach last week, and the team was rewarded greatly for the change. The Bears ripped off 224 rushing yards -- their highest single-game output since 1998 -- against the Panthers, with Forte (324 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 2 total TD) doing most of the damage in a 25-carry workload. The invaluable running back is also Chicago's leader in catches and receiving yards (310) and tops all NFL players in yards from scrimmage this season, so needless to say he'll be the focus of the Detroit defenders on Monday. Last Sunday's reliance on the running game also benefited oft-battered quarterback Jay Cutler (960 passing yards, 4 INT), who was sacked just once by Carolina after being taken down a troubling 14 times in the three previous tilts. If the suspect front line that's still without rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) can keep the Lions' stout pass rush at bay, Cutler has proven in the past he can pose problems for this week's foe, having registered a passer rating over 100 in both 2010 meetings and throwing for 372 yards and two scores in Chicago's season-opening win. His primary downfield targets will be speedy wideout Johnny Knox (12 receptions) and the inconsistent Hester (7 receptions), while undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher (10 receptions, 2 TD) has done a solid job filling in for the injured Earl Bennett in the slot.
While the Lions have received more attention for their talented skill players on offense, they've shown the ability to make plays on the other side of the ball as well. Detroit has amassed 11 takeaways over its first four tilts and had three huge ones in last week's comeback against the Cowboys, with linebacker Bobby Carpenter (7 tackles, 1 INT) and cornerback Chris Houston (20 tackles, 3 INT, 6 PD) each returning interceptions for touchdowns in the second half and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch (26 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) also coming up with a late pick that preceded the eventual game-winning drive. Houston has put together a terrific start as the anchor of a secondary that's helped the Lions rank fifth in pass efficiency defense at the moment, though the group won't have strong safety Amari Spievey (16 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) available due to a hamstring injury. Strongside linebacker Justin Durant (21 tackles), one of the team's top run stoppers, is set to return from a concussion that kept him out last week, while highly-regarded rookie tackle Nick Fairley may make a long-anticipated debut on Monday after being sidelined since the preseason with an injured foot. The 2011 first-round choice brings another inside force to an already-formidable pass rush headlined by Vanden Bosch (11 tackles, 3 sacks) and second-year standout Ndamukong Suh (12 tackles, 2 sacks).
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Detroit enters this week's play tied for second in the NFL in scoring (33.8 ppg), in no small part to a lethal aerial attack that's averaged a shade over 300 passing yards per game (7th overall). Having a healthy Stafford (1217 passing yards, 11 TD, 3 INT), who played in just three games a year ago because of shoulder problems, has clearly made a difference as well. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick trails only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers for the league lead in touchdown passes and is hitting on better than 62 percent of his throws, while the freakishly-gifted Johnson (24 receptions, 321 yards, 8 TD) has been virtually unstoppable near the end zone and tough to contain in the other segments of the field as well. The star wide receiver is far from the only weapon at Stafford's disposal, however. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew (22 receptions) has racked up 17 catches over the past two weeks, while steady veteran Nate Burleson (16 receptions) and rookie speedster Titus Young (12 receptions) bring two more quality options to the wideout position. Running back Jahvid Best (190 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 2 total TD) is also an outstanding receiver out of the backfield as well as a dangerous runner in the open field, though the 2010 first-round pick is averaging a lackluster 3.2 yards per rush attempt and the Lions rank a lowly 29th in rushing offense (74.5 ypg).
A rugged defense helped propel Chicago to the NFC Championship Game last season, but unit hasn't displayed its usual high-caliber form for most of this year. The Bears have surrendered the second-most total yards (425.8 ypg) in the league and has been especially porous against the pass, with the struggling secondary shredded for 374 yards by Carolina rookie sensation Cam Newton in last Sunday's win. Chicago also permitted 169 rushing yards to the Panthers, and opponents have averaged an effective 5.1 yards per carry on the club so far this year. Those poor numbers aren't befitting a crew that sports three perennial Pro Bowlers in middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (28 tackles, 2 INT), weakside stalwart Lance Briggs (36 tackles) and pass-rushing end Julius Peppers (9 tackles, 2 sacks). The latter notched a pair of sacks in Chicago's two encounters with the Lions last year, while emerging tackle Henry Melton (8 tackles) has a team-best three on the season and must be accounted for as well.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Quarterback play. Cutler has owned the Lions in the past, and the strong-armed Chicago signal-caller may need to be on top of his game once again considering the problems the Bears have had on defense as of late. When he records a passer rating of 100 or better over his career, his teams are 23-0, and Cutler's reached that mark in all four lifetime meetings with Detroit. Stafford was forced to exit last year's Week 1 clash with Chicago due to injury and couldn't play in the rematch, so his presence alone could be an x- factor on Monday.
Cutler will be hard-pressed to put up gaudy numbers if he's on his back for much of this contest, therefore it's critical for Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz to shun his pass-happy leanings and establish some semblance of a running game. If Forte can churn out chunks of yards like he did last week, Chicago should be in good shape. If not, Detroit's army of talented pass rushers could have target practice against a rickety offensive line.
Defensive big plays. These were instrumental to both of these teams' Week 4 victories, with Detroit's two interception touchdowns triggering its stirring rally against Dallas and the Bears coming out on top over Carolina in part because of a pick-six from nickel back D.J. Moore. Chicago has scored a touchdown on defense in each of its two 2011 wins.
The Lions have waited a long time for this night to arrive, and they'll be brimming with confidence as well after stringing together two straight remarkable comebacks to pull out what seemed to be sure losses. Detroit might not have to resort to such dramatic and desperate measures this time around, however, as the Bears are plagued with problems on both an aging defense and an offensive line that's been a turnstile for two seasons now. Though Chicago's been able to find resourceful ways to overcome its deficiencies in the past, doing so against a Detroit squad that's finally reaping the benefits of several years of stockpiling young talent and will be pumped up in front of a rare national stage seems like a difficult assignment.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 30, Bears 20