COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bears have started the 2013 season 3-0 and stand alone atop the NFC North thanks in large part to their defense.
The Detroit Lions (2-1) could sit in first place with the Bears if they win on Sunday, September 29, but will need to do it without wide receiver Nate Burleson, who broke his arm in a car accident earlier this week.
Here are four things to watch in the Lions' Week 4 matchup:
How will Nate Burleson's absence affect passing game?
Nate Burleson had his best game of the season last week against the Washington Redskins with six catches for 116 yards.
However, he'll be out of the lineup until November at the earliest, so the Lions will have to make the passing game work without him.
They didn't have much luck last year without Burleson as they won just two of the final 10 games he missed due to a leg injury. The bright side is the Lions have Reggie Bush this year, who didn't play against Washington last week.
Ryan Broyles and Kris Durham will have to step up in Burleson's absence. I have faith in Broyles, but he has had a history of knee problems and we'll have to see how they hold up after a second ACL surgery.
Lions need to win the turnover battle
The Bears have always been a hard-nosed defensive team. Losing Brian Urlacher to retirement hasn't changed that one bit.
Chicago already has forced 11 turnovers this season, which leads the league. The Lions have six turnovers, which is a big improvement from last year, but they will need to do even better against the Bears.
Charles Tillman is battling groin issues this week, and while it appears he still will play against the Lions, how effective will he be trying to cover Calvin Johnson?
The Bears have done a better job protecting Jay Cutler this year as they have only given up three sacks in three games, second-best behind the Lions' two.
However, with a pass rush featuring Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah, it isn't going to be easy for the Bears offensive line to contain these three.
On the other side, Stafford will have to make good decisions with the football against a defense that is capable of making big plays.
He has done that so far only throwing two interceptions to six touchdowns, and he has fit the ball into some tight windows on a number of those throws.
Reggie Bush returns to lineup
The Lions managed to win without Bush last week, but having him back in the lineup will give the offensive that explosiveness they were missing against Washington.
Bush said if last week's game was a playoff game, he would have been OK to go. But coach Jim Schwartz and team doctors decided to play it safe with Bush and make sure he is 100 percent for this week's matchup.
With Burleson out, Bush can also be used like a receiver with passes in the back field and screen passes to open up the field for Johnson later in the game.
The Bears will be looking to force fumbles against a back like Bush, one who is flashier and makes defenders miss.
Brandon Marshall always a threat
Brandon Marshall had big games against Cincinnati and Minnesota, but was held to eight catches for 52 yards receiving on five catches against the Steelers last week.
The Lions managed to contain Marshall at Ford Field last year, but the 6-foot-4 230-pound wide receiver is always a deep threat, and the Lions have given up some big plays to wide receivers who aren't as good as Marshall.
If the Lions contain Matt Forte on the ground, Cutler will have no choice but to go to the air, and the Lions can focus on containing Marshall.
This is going to be the Lions' toughest game to date. The Bears haven't been that great on offense, but have a top five defense. The Lions defense has been good, but it's the offense that can be explosive.
This one could go either way, but I will give the nod to the Lions since they have the home field.
Prediction: Lions win 27-24
Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who covers the Detroit Lions for the Yahoo Contributor Network. He also is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter.
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- Detroit Lions
- Nate Burleson
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