The Detroit Lions head to Lambeau to face the Green Bay Packers this week for the NFC North crown. We all know about the numerous droughts the Lions are facing, so let's just move on to what is important. Winner of this game gets a first-round bye in the playoffs; loser will have to travel for a road playoff matchup. Game on.
Lions pass offense (11th) vs. Packers pass defense (10th)
The Lions pass offense has been mediocre all year. They've only surpassed passer rating averages in six of 15 games and yardage averages in eight of 15. Even though Matthew Stafford is likely to throw the fewest amount of interceptions in his career, his passer rating (85.4) is only two points higher than his career average (83.6).
Detroit ranks 19th in passer rating, t-15th in yards per attempt (7.2) and 22nd in completion percentage (61.3). Football Outsiders ranks the Lions pass offense 18th in DVOA, and that seems to line up with the charts as well.
The Packers pass defense has been surprisingly efficient this year. They've held nine of 15 opponents below their passer rating average, and only three of 15 have managed to outgain their yardage averages against the Packers. Only four opponents have managed a passer rating above 100, and only three opponents have gained over 300 yards against this defense.
Green Bay ranks seventh in passer rating allowed (81.5), 12th in yards per attempt (7.0) and seventh in completion percentage allowed (59.8). Don't sleep on this defense; it's quite good. They rank ninth in DVOA.
In the previous matchup, Green Bay dominated this portion of the game. They were able to create pressure consistently, and forced Stafford into two interceptions. This was Stafford's third-worst game of the season by passer rating.
Players to watch: Cornelius Lucas and Travis Swanson. Pass protection was a big issue in the previous matchup, and the Lions will be starting two rookie linemen on Sunday. They will need to give Stafford at least a little time if the Lions want any chance in winning this matchup.
Advantage: Packers +1.5. The Packers won this matchup decisively last time, and it's easy to see how on paper. Green Bay has a top-10 pass defense, while the Lions' pass offense is below average.
Lions run offense (27th) vs. Packers run defense (22nd)
Oooh, lookie! The Lions have a fully green row for the first time this year! In fact, over the past six weeks, the Lions run offense has almost been respectable. In five of these six games, they've outgained their season average of 87.4 yards per game, and in each game they've outgained their YPC average (3.5). Still, given the defenses they've played during this stretch, it hasn't been an impressive performance by any means.
Overall, the Lions' run offense is getting better, but it is still one of the worst in the league. They rank 30th in yards per carry and only gain first downs on 17.2 percent of rushes (29th). Football Outsiders has them ranked as the 27th-best running game.
The Packers run defense is quite average. They've held six of 15 opponents below their YPC average and only five of 15 below yardage averages.
Green Bay ranks t-15th in yards per carry allowed (4.2) but ranks t-29th in percentage of rushes allowed earning first downs (25.4). Overall, they rank 20th, according to Football Outsiders.
In the previous matchup, the Lions managed to rack up 115 rushing yards, but only at 3.0 yards per carry. Still, the Lions were somewhat efficient, scoring a touchdown on the ground and running out the clock at the end of the game mostly with their running game.
Player to watch: Reggie Bush. Bush was dominant in the previous game, and his speed and elusiveness are a great matchup against the Packers' weak linebackers. With Joique Bell battling an Achilles injury, expect Bush to get a higher percentage of touches this week.
Advantage: Push. The Lions should be able to get a little going on the ground this week -- enough to keep them balanced. But a good day by the Lions' standards is not very good at all. The Lions may reach 100 yards on the ground in Lambeau, but they won't be dominant. Not with that offensive line.
Packers pass offense (7th) vs. Lions pass defense (13th)
As expected, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers pass offense enjoyed another dominant regular season. Rodgers only failed to meet the defense's passer rating average in one game this year. He's reached a passer rating of 100+ in 10 of 15 games, including six of the past seven.
The Packers rank second in passer rating (108.6), t-second in yards per attempt (8.2) and 12th in completion percentage (64.5). They have the second-best passing attack, according to Football Outsiders.
The Lions' pass defense continues to hover above average. They've held nine of 15 opponents below their passer rating average, but just five of 15 below their yardage average.
Detroit ranks fifth in passer rating allowed (80.8), t-seventh in yards per attempt allowed (6.6) and t-21st in completion percentage allowed (64.1). Despite their mediocre chart, Football Outsiders has Detroit as the fifth-best pass defense.
In the previous matchup, the Lions held the Packers to their fewest passing yards of the season and their second-lowest passer rating. Rodgers did not throw an interception in the game, but his 6.0 yards per attempt was his third-worst performance of the year.
Player to watch: Jordy Nelson. Nelson has had a spectacular year, totaling 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Lions held him to five catches and 59 yards last matchup, but he is always a threat to break at least one huge play against any opponent.
Advantage: Packers +0.5. This will be an extremely exciting matchup to watch. The Lions clearly held one of the best pass offenses in check last time the two faced, but it will be extremely hard to do so again. The Packers have been playing lights out lately. While the Lions' pass defense has been solid as well, they haven't been quite as elite as the Packers.
Packers run offense (11th) vs. Lions run defense (1st)
After a very slow start to the season, the Packers have seemed to find a running game. They've managed to outgain their opponents' YPC allowed average in five of the past six games. Additionally, they've had at least 100 rushing yards in 10 of their past 11 games.
The Packers rank t-ninth in YPC (4.4) and sixth in percentage of rushes earning first downs (24.4). This is the fifth-best running game, according to Football Outsiders.
But the Packers will have their hands full with the undisputed best run defense in the league. The Lions have only allowed 100 rushing yards once all year and 4.0+ yards per carry just twice. This is as dominant of a run defense as I have ever charted in On Paper, and it will likely be the best one I ever chart.
The Lions rank first in YPC allowed (3.1) and first in percentage of rushes allowed earning first downs (16.7). They also rank first in DVOA.
In the previous matchup, although the Packers managed to outgain Detroit's defensive averages, they failed to even get close to their own offensive averages. With just 76 yards at 3.5 yards per carry, Detroit dominated the matchup and made Green Bay one-dimensional.
Player to watch: Eddie Lacy. Lacy has been averaging 5.4 yards per carry over the past five weeks and has four rushing touchdowns over that stretch. He is not the same Eddie Lacy that the Lions faced in Week 3.
Advantage: Lions +1. The Lions won this matchup last time around, and although the Packers are clearly a better rushing team now, this is still the best run defense in the league. I find it hard to believe the Packers will reach their average of 117.7 yards per game at 4.4 YPC.
Lambeau. We know. We know.
Kicking. The Lions missed another field goal last week (blocked), so that means I have to mention how crappy their kicking game is again. With poor weather conditions likely again (although not by December-in-Lambeau standards), hold on to your butts every time Matt Prater lines up.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper predicted a comfortable win over the Chicago Bears last week, but in reality the Lions had to struggle to eke out a 20-14 victory. In the comments section, UndaDawg was much more modest with his prediction, picking the score of 20-17 Lions. He is our winner this week, and here is his prize:
You win a virtual six-pack of Lions candy cane ornaments. This is a great prize because it can serve two purposes. If you've been good, it can make your Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush more festive. If you've been bad this year, you can use the canes in an entirely different way!
This week's prediction:
The Packers end up with just a +1 advantage. I was pretty shocked when the Packers came out as 7+ point favorites according to various Vegas betting lines. Detroit has always given Green Bay a tough time, and although they have a huge drought of winning in Green Bay, they have played them competitively almost every season since the Matt Millen years. I don't think they'll end up winning this year, but they surely have a shot at it. Packers 24, Lions 20.