No matter how bleak things got in recent years, the Chicago Bears could always point to the Detroit Lions and be thankful someone in the NFC North was worse.
Former Bears coach Matt Nagy owned the Lions, and the Bears have won seven of their last eight against Detroit even while dominant Green Bay has only been able to win half its last 10 against the lowly Lions.
The Bears-Lions series seems to always be a hot-and-cold affair as the Bears went 1-9 against the Lions during the Marc Trestman/John Fox coaching eras, after Lovie Smith's teams finished by winning nine of their last 10 against Detroit.
Now it would appear things have changed again to the down side for the Bears as they rebuild, and there are several main reasons they can look to be underdogs against Detroit during coach Matt Eberflus' first season as coach.
Not all of it has to do with the Bears' rebuilding status.
1. Lions Are a Year Ahead
The Lions are always rebuilding, it seems. The Bears are rebuilding, as well.
However, Detroit began its most recent rebuild a year ago and has had that time to fortify its offensive line through the draft, while bringing in new and better receivers. It might even be their greatest team strength.
The Bears are heading to training camp in less than a month and no fan can even say with confidence which blockers will line up at what offensive line position when they take the field for the first practice, let alone the first game. The receivers for Detroit have come a long way since before last camp, with Amon-Ra St. Brown established after a strong rookie year, D.J. Chark now on Detroit, Josh Reynolds fitting in well and tight end T.J. Hockenson at least a year ahead of Cole Kmet in development not to mention skill level.
The Bears have imported low-budget receivers to complement Darnell Mooney, are hoping rookie Velus Jones can contribute and that one or two players cast off by other teams might develop.
2. Jared Goff
Many Bears fans would scoff at Goff.
Still, compared to Justin Fields for at least this one season and this time in their careers, it would appear the Lions QB owns the upper hand. Goff now knows his offense. He has taken a team to the Super Bowl. Now he has some receivers, too.
Fields went through what was a wasted rookie year under a coaching staff in disarray and behind an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the NFL. He not only must learn to read defenses, he must try to understand a new offense.
While Fields has all the potental to be far better athletically than Goff and, at the very least, a better deep passer, Fields has done nothing yet. Meanwhile, Goff has a resume with a few real positives already and understands how the NFL works.
In short, Fields needs to prove himself before he can be called better than Goff.
3. Detroit's Improved Defense
The Lions' biggest problem when Dan Campbell took over as coach was a defense that could squander whatever little the offense achieved. Detroit's defense started to come together in the second half of last season and it was a major reason the Lions won three of their last six games after going winless in the first 11. They allowed 24 points a game over the final nine games after giving up over 30 a game in the first eight.
Their secondary has amassed talent over the last year but injuries decimated them last year. Now, they'll be healthy at camp.
The Bears, meanwhile, have a few more established defensive players like Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith but a totally new defensive scheme could keep them from playing well together as a unit for several games into the season, if not longer.
The old Bears defense drew its strength from line dominance and it was the team's greatest asset. That line is now gone and they've started over with a new scheme and several unestablished players.