The Detroit Lions are home this week, facing off against their second consecutive AFC East foe. The Buffalo Bills are coming off of two straight losses but are right in the mix for the division lead, tied with both the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins at 2-2. That's pretty much the storyline of the game. There's absolutely nothing else significant about the Bills or any of their players or coaches coming back to Detroit, so let's just look at the charts.
Lions pass offense (7th) vs. Bills pass defense (25th)
The Detroit pass offense rebounded nicely after a couple of shaky weeks for Matthew Stafford. The Lions have played some pretty tough defenses thus far, but they have weathered the storm and played above average by most accounts. Like last year, the Lions are putting up a lot of yardage, but unlike last year, Stafford is putting together some solid passer ratings. In 2013, Stafford only had one game in which he earned a passer rating above 100. Through four weeks, he already has two this season.
Detroit ranks 18th in passer rating (91.5), 19th in completion percentage (64.2) and tied for sixth in yards per attempt (7.9). Those rankings may seem low, but given the strengths of the defenses they've played, those numbers are actually fairly good. The most concerning aspect of the pass offense is pass protection. The Lions have ceded 11 sacks already this season, which is tied for fifth-most in the league.
The Bills pass defense has been a mixed bag thus far. They have held three of four quarterbacks below their passer rating average, but most of their opponents have gained more yards than they average.
Overall, Buffalo sports a pretty solid pass defense. They rank 11th in passer rating allowed (86.8), 25th in completion percentage allowed (67.5) and t-12th in yards per attempt allowed (7.0). They do have some playmakers on defense, as they have already tallied five interceptions on the year (t-sixth-most).
Player to watch: Calvin Johnson. Johnson's availability may still be in question, but if he can play, look out. The Bills secondary looks good on paper (*wink*), but the results haven't quite met the expectations yet. Last week, Calvin's AFC doppelganger, Andre Johnson, put a hurting on the Bills secondary. Andre turned seven targets into six catches and 71 yards, seemingly with ease.
Advantage: Lions +1. The Bills defensive line is very good and could give the Lions offense fits. However, there are two key changes in personnel. The Lions will likely be getting back right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and the Bills look like they may be without defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
Lions run offense (25th) vs. Bills run defense (3rd)
Though the Lions technically outgained averages last week against the New York Jets, this chart doesn't inspire much optimism for the Lions' running game. They've yet to average 4.0 YPC in one game this season, and even the one time the Lions managed 100+ yards in a game, it was against the Green Bay Packers run defense, which is by far the worst in the league.
Detroit is averaging 3.1 a carry (t-30th) and is gaining a first down on just 15.9 percent of carries (29th). With Joique Bell likely out Sunday, this does not appear to be the week for optimism.
The Bills aren't going to let up this week, either. The San Diego Chargers aside (the worst running offense in the league), the Bills have held all of their opponents well below their yardage averages. Only the Chicago Bears have managed to outgain their YPC average against the Bills. Last week's performance against the Houston Texans was especially impressive, holding Arian Foster to just 6 yards on eight carries.
Buffalo is holding opponents to just 2.9 YPC (t-second) and has yet to allow a rush over 14 yards (best in the league). Only 15.3 percent of rushes against the Bills have earned first downs (best in the league as well).
Player to watch: Marcell Dareus. If Williams can't go, don't sleep on the Bills' other starting defensive tackle. Dareus is a young, tough player who is especially good at stopping the run.
Advantage: Bills +2. The Bills are clearly the better unit here, even if Williams can't make it on the field. The good news for the Lions is that they've managed to win in spite of their terrible run game. But don't expect things to turn around this week.
Bills pass offense (31st) vs. Lions pass defense (2nd)
A quick look at the chart and it's easy to see why the Bills benched EJ Manuel. The Bills have not been able to move the ball through the air at all with Manuel behind center. They've only outgained passer rating averages in one game this season.
Buffalo ranks 27th in passer rating (79.7), 28th in yards per attempt (6.3) and 29th in completion percentage (57.6).
Kyle Orton will bring quicker, more accurate throws to the Bills offense, but it has yet to be seen whether that will make them significantly better.
The Lions, on the other hand, have been dominant against the pass. No team has outgained their yardage or passer rating average against the Lions this season. And for some teams -- like the New York Giants and Packers-- they've been absolutely shut down.
Detroit is allowing just 6.4 yards per attempt (t-fifth), a completion percentage of just 57.5 (third) and a passer rating of 77.4 (fifth). All signs point to this team playing like a top-five pass defense so far this year.
Player to watch: Nick Fairley. As I pointed out earlier in the week, the Bills have some vulnerability toward the center of their offensive line. With Ndamukong Suh likely to be getting most of the attention, look for Fairley to take advantage.
Advantage: Lions +2. The Lions would likely have a bigger advantage if there was some tape on Orton in a Bills uniform. Unfortunately, he is a big unknown in the matchup, but just about every other advantage points to the Lions. The Bills have some talented receivers in Sammy Watkins (*swoon*), and they like to use Fred Jackson in the passing game effectively. But not much has worked against the Lions defense thus far.
Bills run offense (13th) vs. Lions run defense (6th)
The Bills sport a pretty average running game. Though they can be occasionally explosive, they can also be stopped. They haven't faced any particularly stout run defenses so far, and the results have been mixed. After dominating the Bears defense, they have yet to outgain a defense's YPC average.
Overall, however, they remain an above-average run offense. Their 4.4 YPC ties them for 15th in the league, although just 17.1 percent of their rushes are gaining first downs (27th).
I think their running game may be a bit overrated, but Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both talented backs that average 4.0 YPC or better.
The Lions run defense has been solid through a quarter of the season, but maybe not as dominant as you'd think. In the past two weeks, the Lions have held their opponents below their average in just one of four statistical categories. Of course, this timing coincides with the Stephen Tulloch injury early in the Packers game. The Jets proved last week that this unit is not infallible, especially without their starting middle linebacker.
Still, this unit remains a force to be dealt with. They rank seventh in YPC allowed (3.4) and t-10th in percentage of rushing attempts allowed that earn a first down (18.9).
Player to watch: Tahir Whitehead. Tulloch's replacement has been serviceable since he went down, but Whitehead will need to step his game up this week if the Lions hope to contain the Bills' rushing attack. DeAndre Levy can only do so much.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. This matchup could really go either way. I think both units are a bit overrated, but Detroit's defense has been slightly more consistent. I still expect the Bills to have a handful of successful runs in this game.
Gym Shortz. I may be breaking news here, but Sunday will be the first time Jim Schwartz returns to Ford Field after being fired as head coach of the Lions. This means either Schwartz will be so motivated that he'll bring the entire Bills team to victory, or the Lions will be so amped to prove they are better without Schwartz that they will send him home crying. In other words, his return means very little in terms of the actual outcome, but it means a TON in terms of creating a post-game narrative.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper moved to 4-0 on the year after correctly predicting another Lions victory. My prediction of 16-10 was fairly close to the final score of 24-17. But in the comments section, we finally had our first perfect prediction of the year. Eddie Apoc nailed the score exactly and will go down in On Paper history. Here is your prize, Eddie:
This week's prediction:
The Lions end up with a +1.5 advantage. The Bills seem to be a bit underrated going into this week. Their defense is pretty solid and their run game is good enough to keep Stafford off the field. Still, the emergence of the Lions defense has made them a bad matchup for every other team in the league. If they can keep it up, they'll be the favorite on paper for most of their remaining matchups. Lions 27, Bills 17.