Welcome back, everyone. This week, the Lions head to the Metrodome, where they haven't won since 1997, yet are three-point favorites in the matchup. Let's see what the numbers have to say:
Lions Pass Offense (6th) vs. Vikings Pass Defense (23rd)
*GASP* The Lions failed to outperform the Chiefs' averages in quarterback rating allowed. As shocking as that may be, I don't think anyone in their right mind would consider Matthew Stafford's performance last week as below-average. I highly doubt the Chiefs will continue to allow a 114.3 passer rating on average. The Lions passing attack continues to be lethal and has showed little signs of stopping.
Pass protection has been pretty solid, as well. While the Lions are the only team in the NFL who has not allowed a sack, Stafford was hit plenty of times last week.
The Vikings counter with a pretty solid pass defense. Though yardage ranks them as 23rd overall, in terms of passer rating allowed, they rank 13th with an average of 87.4. The Vikings defense has been awarded with four sacks (T-19th) and three interceptions (T-4th). Looking at the chart, it appears opposing quarterbacks have performed just below their season averages, so we can conclude that the Vikings pass defense is about average, or slightly better than average.
If that is the case, we can expect another stellar performance by Stafford and crew. Through two games, Stafford is averaging nearly 300 yards a game, 3.5 touchdowns and has a passer rating of 112.0. Advantage Lions +2.5.
Lions Run Offense (12th) vs. Vikings Run Defense (10th)
After week one, it appeared the Lions running attack was improved. However, after the Bucs defense was dominated by the Vikings last week, it seems success against Tampa Bay is easier than expected. Combined with last week's sub-par performance, it is becoming clear that the Lions running game is, again, below average. They are averaging a mere 3.3 a carry (T-24th). Obviously, this hasn't slowed down the offense, which has scored the second-most points in the league, but it is still a little unnerving.
The Vikings run defense has been a story of two very different weeks. In week one, they dominated the Chargers, holding them to a pathetic 2.9 a carry, but ended up ceding over 100 yards and 5.5 a carry to the Bucs in the following week.
Minnesota has only given up 4.0 a carry overall, good for 14th best in the NFL. They clearly have the advantage on paper, but as the past two weeks have shown us, this matchup is not very important to the final outcome of the game. Therefore, the advantage is only Vikings +1.
Vikings Pass Offense (31st) vs. Lions Pass Defense (7th)
After one of the worst performances by a quarterback in week one, Donovan McNabb rebounded in week two to put up modest numbers. Unfortunately for him, he was not able to reach the bar set by Stafford in week one against the Bucs. At first, I thought the 31st ranking based on yardage was a bit deceiving, but the Vikings rank 30th in passer rating with an awful 71.3 average. Perhaps the biggest positive sign for the Vikings passing attack is that they have only given up four sacks, which is tied for ninth best in the NFL.
Though the Lions have given up more-than-average yardage in their first two matchups, they have held both opposing quarterbacks below their passer rating averages. In fact, the Lions rank second in the league in passer rating allowed (60.0). It is worth noting, however, that the Bucs and Chiefs don't exactly have the most dynamic passing games in the NFL. But it seems pretty clear that the Vikings don't either. The Vikings passing attack is not the center of this offense's identity, therefore the Lions' advantage is small. Lions +1.
Vikings Run Offense (3rd) vs. Lions Run Defense (13th)
No doubt about it, the Vikings rushing attack is as strong as it has ever been. Adrian Peterson is fourth in the league in rushing yards and is averaging an impressive 5.3 a carry. But don't sleep on Toby Gerhart, who has 52 yards on four carries and also has a 42-yard reception. He may be scarcely used, but when he has touched the ball, he has made the most of it. To drive my point home, the Vikings also rank fourth in rushes of over 20 yards. They are good.
The Lions run defense remains a bit of a mystery. They were impressive in week one, but the Bucs didn't exactly hammer the running game down the Lions' throats, only rushing 16 times. The Chiefs had success last week, but, surprisingly, the Lions actually held them below their average yards per carry. Still, holding a team to 5.2 a carry isn't exactly an astounding accomplishment.
The last time the Lions faced Adrian Peterson, they held him to just 31 yards on 14 carries (2.2 YPC). But that week, as noted by new blogger Nate Washuta at Holy Schwartz!, the Lions completely sold out on stopping the run on nearly every down. This was likely because Joe Webb was their quarterback that week. With McNabb behind center, the Lions will have to at least acknowledge the Vikings' passing attack, which should give Peterson a somewhat successful day. Vikings +1.5.
The Lions are left with a small +1 advantage. This may come to a surprise to many Lions fans. Many were predicting a sweep of the Vikings in the preseason, and those feelings were only strengthened by the Lions' 2-0 start and the Vikings' winless streak. However, the Vikings held double digit leads in both of their games. In fact, they have outscored their opponents 34-7 in the first half! Of course, that also means that they have fallen apart in the second half, having been outscored 41-3 in the final two quarters.
Still, I think the Vikings are a better team than most are saying. Despite the fact that they lost to the Bucs last week, I believe the Vikings will be the best overall team the Lions have faced this year. The game will seemingly come down to which unit is more successful: the Lions passing offense or the Vikings run offense. I think the advantage there is pretty clear. Lions 24, Vikings 20.