(670 The Score) The Most Awkward Game of the Year has already arrived, with the Bears (3-7) heading into Detroit for an early kickoff against the winless Lions on Thursday. Bears coach Matt Nagy’s job status may – or may not – change after the game ends, which will surely have no influence on the mood of everyone sitting down at the table for a long dinner. Despite all the noise around the Bears, there’s still a game that has to be played (right? they have to play it?), so while you’re “watching” that, here are a few key matchups to “keep an eye on."
Bears QB Andy Dalton vs. Lions S Will Harris
A weird tiny subplot from the Bears’ season is that Dalton has ... looked kinda good in Nagy’s offense? It’s admittedly a small sample size, but it feels like the Bears are in fairly capable hands this week. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus ranks Lions safety Will Harris at 90th out of 91 players eligible at his position, which is, as they say, not great. Harris has allowed 18 receptions on 24 targets for 209 yards with a touchdown this season, and opposing quarterbacks have a 114.8 passer rating when throwing at him. The Lions have a pretty abysmal pass defense (28th in DVOA), which in theory should help a Bears passing offense that still has some hope that it might get receiver Allen Robinson back just in time for a homecoming game in Detroit. If Nagy is going to go out in style, there are worse ways to do that than taking a bunch of deep shots on a bad Lions secondary.
Bears LB Roquan Smith vs. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson
Smith is coming off one the best games of his career – his 17 tackles in a loss against the Ravens on Sunday were a career-high, and each one of them looked more thunderous than the last. Smith has been the only real bright spot for the Bears’ linebacker room for most the season, and he has set himself up to get paid nicely by someone. He’ll spend a lot of the day on Hockenson, who’s probably the most dangerous player on Detroit’s offense. He’s the 21st-ranked tight end, according to PFF, and has 54 catches for 499 yards and two touchdowns in his third NFL season. Hockenson's contested catch rate of 76.9% is far and away the best of his career, and he’s currently on pace to set career-bests in receptions and yards. Only four tight ends (Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller and Mike Gesicki) have been targeted more than the Lions target Hockenson, so Smith will be in for a long day of pass coverage.
Bears edge rusher Trevis Gipson vs. Lions OT Penei Sewell
With Bears star pass rusher Khalil Mack out for the rest of the season, the next seven weeks should give everyone the nice, long look at Gipson that we’ve been waiting for. He looked good against the Ravens on Sunday, logging a sack along with two tackles for a loss. He has played in at least 50% of the defensive snaps in every game for the last four weeks, so defensive coordinator Sean Desai and the rest of the Bears’ coaching staff clearly see something they like during the week. He’ll have his work cut out for him against Sewell, who has looked much better at right tackle in recent weeks after a surprisingly slow start. In 174 pass blocking reps in the past five games, Sewell has allowed only five pressures and no sacks. Gipson is going to have to prove he can be more consistent than he’s been so far, and Thursday will be as good a test as any.
Cam Ellis is a writer for 670 The Score and Audacy Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KingsleyEllis.