The Chicago Bears understand the math and don't need any tutorials.
Beat Detroit and that gap with the Lions becomes a gulf. Lose and the division race becomes a little more interesting.
Back from their off week and alone atop the NFC North, the Bears (4-1) will try to make it four straight wins when they host Detroit (2-3) on Monday night.
"If we win, we kind of knock them down," Chicago cornerback D.J. Moore said. "If they win, they'll be 3-3 and feel like they got a game on us. ... We can pretty much take all the confidence they got."
The Lions have a chance to get back to .500 after a three-game losing streak put their season in peril. That ended last week, when they erased a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and beat Philadelphia 26-23 in overtime. But they still are last in the division, two games behind Chicago with Minnesota (4-2) and Green Bay (3-3) ahead of them.
It's not quite the start the Lions envisioned, and if they're going to prove they're more than just a one-year wonder, they still have some work to do.
The late rally last week was a start, with Matthew Stafford throwing a touchdown pass and running for a score in the fourth and Jason Hanson kicking a 45-yard field goal in OT, but more is expected. After all, Detroit won 10 games a year ago and made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, a quantum leap for a longtime laughingstock. The joke was finally on the opposition, just a few years removed from that 0-16 nightmare in 2008.
There still is time. But a loss this week would be a big blow.
"It's a great chance and the coach has been stressing that," Lions linebacker Justin Durant said. "If we win, we're right back in it."
It hasn't been easy for the Lions.
Their run game has been nonexistent with Jahvid Best sidelined since last October because of concussion problems and Mikel Leshoure still getting acclimated after missing his rookie season because of torn left Achilles tendon. He was also suspended the first two games this season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
Quick starts are another issue for the Lions. Put simply, they're not getting them.
They are second only to Denver with 73 points in the fourth quarter this season compared to just 50 in the first three periods, and both wins came after late rallies.
But they're still averaging just over 419 yards on offense, second only to New England. They still boast one of the league's top receivers in Calvin Johnson, a quarterback who threw for more than 5,000 yards last season in Stafford, and strong defense anchored by Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams up front.
In other words, the Bears aren't taking Detroit lightly.
"As you see in the last game when they played Philly, they got constant penetration, and that kills the run game," Chicago's Matt Forte said. "So, up front, we're going to have to try to stop that. They do a lot of different run blitzes and things like that, so we're going to have to do play-actions and stuff to try to calm that down. But it really just starts up front with not allowing penetration."
To that end, the Bears have been doing a better job lately. Jay Cutler hasn't been sacked more than twice in the past three games after being taken down seven times in that awful loss to Green Bay in Week 2.
And on defense, Chicago has played as well as any team.
"They're a very good pass rush team," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "They have a lot of sacks. They put pressure on the quarterback. You can't be patient. You have to take shots down the field."
The Bears rank third overall on defense and have tied a club record by returning five interceptions for touchdowns — all in the past three games.
They beat Dallas and Jacksonville rather easily before the break, and now, they have a chance to go up three games on Detroit.
"We know this is going to be a tough test for us," cornerback Tim Jennings said. "This is going to be a huge game for us to make sure that we stay where we're at. Because, like I said, we really want that bye week going into the playoffs."
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