DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Lions are off to a strong start in their quest to end a three-decade drought without a division title.
Detroit (7-2) has its best record through nine games since 2014, giving the revitalized franchise a two-game lead over Minnesota in the NFC North.
The Lions still have a lot of work to do against divisional foes to finish in first place. They've played only one NFC North team two-plus months into the season, winning at Green Bay.
Detroit will face five of eight teams within the division to close the regular season, starting with the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Ford Field.
“This is like winning two games a little bit when you play these division games," coach Dan Campbell said. “So, it’s important.”
Campbell said it's imperative for the team to stay focused and hungry because the Vikings (6-4) are surging and potentially can make up ground when the teams meet twice over the last three weeks.
“You’ve got to keep winning and then when the time comes and you play that opponent, man, you’ve got to win those games,” he said.
The Bears (3-7) are coming off a win against Carolina that matched their total number of victories from last season, but the bar was low with just three wins and a franchise-record and league-high 14 losses.
“They're a whole lot better than their record shows,” Detroit quarterback Jared Goff said. “They’ve been banged up a little bit throughout the year and they're getting their quarterback back now.”
Bears quarterback Justin Fields is expected to come back after missing the past four games with a dislocated right thumb.
“I’m really excited to be back this week and be back on the field with the guys,” he said.
The remainder of the season could go a long way toward determining the future of the 2021 No. 11 overall pick because the Bears have to decide whether to pick up their fifth-year option for 2025. They could also use one of their two first-round draft picks on a quarterback.
Though Fields was struggling against Minnesota before getting injured, he had two of his best passing performances in the previous two games. He threw for a career-high 335 yards in a loss to Denver and 282 in a win at Washington. In both games, he had four touchdown passes.
“He's stretching the ball down the field.,” Campbell said. “They’re asking him to do some things in that pass game that they weren’t necessarily doing before.”
The Bears were 2-2 while starting rookie Tyson Bagent, who was undrafted out of Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, whose fame has skyrocketed due to his relationship with Taylor Swift, and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce’s have merited a lot of attention as the first pair of siblings to play each other in the Super Bowl.
The Sewell family has a lot to be proud of, too.
Detroit's Penei Sewell, who has not allowed a sack this season, has become one of the NFL's best offensive tackles and has two brothers in the league this season.
His younger brother, Noah, is a linebacker drafted by the Bears in the fifth round who has contributed on special teams. But the brothers will not face each other on the field as Noah Sewell is listed as out with a keen injury for the game.
Sewell will play another brother, Nephi, at New Orleans in Week 13. The oldest of the trio also plays mostly on special teams.
The Bears are making some adjustments to their offensive line.
With right guard Nate Davis returning after missing the past four games with an ankle injury, Teven Jenkins is moving back to his starting spot at left guard. Lucas Patrick remains at center. Cody Whitehair, who has started 117 games over eight seasons in Chicago, has been benched.
“That’s just the best operation that we feel for each position experience,” coach Matt Eberflus said.
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