As the regular season nears its conclusion, the Detroit Lions (8-4) ready themselves for a tight playoff race. This week, they'll have to take down the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10), which handed the Lions a painful upset during last year's playoff run. Will the Lions offer their fans another letdown? The charts have the answer:
Lions pass offense (9th) vs. Bucs pass defense (21st)
The Lions' pass offense enjoyed a good week against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving, but still remain a very shaky unit. They've only surpassed passer rating averages in four of 12 games, but continue to rack up above-average yardage in six of 12 matchups. They have very much been a feast or famine type of offense, and, fittingly, they feasted on Thanksgiving.
Detroit ranks 21st in passer rating (84.7), t-15th in yards per attempt (7.3) and 23rd in completion percentage (60.6). But there is good news! The Lions may get three starting offensive players back this week: left tackle Riley Reiff, right guard Larry Warford and running back Reggie Bush. Reiff and Warford will immediately improve the unit's pass protection, while Bush gives the Lions another dynamic receiving threat.
The Bucs pass defense was absolutely awful through the first half of the season. Seven of their first eight opponents surpassed both their yardage and passer rating averages against the Bucs. However, since then the Bucs have tightened up their defense and not allowed any of their past four opponents to significantly outgain their yardage and passer rating averages.
Overall, this is still a pretty below-average defense. They rank 24th in passer rating allowed (97.0), t-17th in yards per attempt (7.5) and 31st in completion percentage (68.2).
Tampa's pass defense is bolstered by an impressive defensive line, although they only have 26 sacks on the year (t-18th).
Player to watch: Gerald McCoy. McCoy is one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league. His 8.5 sacks double anyone else on his team.
Advantage: Lions +0.5. The Lions have proven effective against inferior defenses, and with an almost 100 percent healthy offense for the first time in a long time, Detroit is due to break out once again. However, the Bucs are also trending upward. The Lions should win this matchup, but their inconsistency is enough to give me pause.
Lions run offense (30th) vs. Bucs run defense (18th)
The Lions run offense still sucks. And it won't be any different with a healthy Bush (although a healthy Reiff may help a little).
The Bucs' run defense is quite average. Only one team has managed to significantly outgain their YPC average, but seven of 12 have met their average. The Bucs tend to give up a lot of yards, but that tends to happen when a team falls behind in almost every game. Unsurprisingly, the Bucs have faced the seventh-most rushing attempts this year.
Tampa is allowing 4.0 yards per carry (t-ninth) and allows first downs on 22.8 percent of rushes (18th). Again, they're average.
Lansanah is currently our tenth-ranked 4-3 outside linebacker with a +6.9 overall grade. Over the last two weeks, Lansanah has led the team in both tackles and stops, enjoying a breakout game in Week 13, when he registered 15 tackles and 12 stops, a league high in both categories for all defensive players.
Advantage: Bucs +1. The Lions run offense hasn't been as awful as it was earlier in the year, but there's still no reason for optimism here.
Bucs pass offense (18th) vs. Lions pass defense (12th)
The Bucs passing game has been downright awful this year. They've only outgained defensive passer rating averages once all year, and they've only had a passer rating above 90 twice. The yardage numbers aren't much prettier, as they've only managed 300 yards once all season.
Tampa ranks 28th in passer rating (79.0), t-20th in yards per attempt (7.1) and 30th in completion percentage (58.3). Additionally, they have allowed 33 sacks, the ninth-most in the league. There's no real way to sugarcoat it; the Bucs passing attack is awful.
The Lions pass defense, however, has been impressive all year. They have held seven of 12 opponents below their passer rating average and six of their opponents at or below yardage averages.
Detroit ranks sixth in passer rating allowed (81.9), ninth in yards per attempt (6.7) and t-20th in completion percentage (64.7). They also rank t-12th in sacks with 29 on the season.
Player to watch: Mike Evans. Over the past five games, Evans is averaging 110.8 yards per game with six touchdowns over that span. Darius Slay has done well at shutting down No. 1 receivers, but Evans will be his biggest test in a month.
Advantage: Lions +1.5. There's no reason the Lions shouldn't win this matchup. The Bucs are the worst passing offense the Lions have faced since Minnesota. Also, BONUS PLAYER TO WATCH: Ziggy Ansah. Ansah has been dominating lately. Mix in a poor Tampa offensive line and you may have a breakout day from the second-year player.
Bucs run offense (29th) vs. Lions run defense (1st)
Do not adjust your screens; this is not the Lions run game. This is the Bucs' just-as-bad rushing attack. After a promising start in the first two weeks of the season, Tampa has only reached 100 rushing yards in one game since then. That would be okay if they were still averaging a respectable yards per carry, but they've only outgained those averages once in the past 10 weeks.
The Bucs are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry (t-24th) and earn first downs on 21.6 percent of rushes (17th).
And the Lions run defense continues to have one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history. They've been so dominant that teams have just stopped trying to run the ball against them. They have now faced the fewest rushing attempts in the league (21.2 per game).
Opponents are averaging just 3.1 yards per carry (first) and earn first downs on 16.9 percent of rushes (second).
Player to watch: Ndamukong Suh. Undoubtedly, we will hear at least one reference to the Suh Stomp, as he will once again face up against Evan Dietrich-Smith, the victim of his Thanksgiving Happy Feet attack. Dietrich-Smith is coming off an illness and has had a rough season thus far. Forget the history; Suh should dominate on Sunday.
Advantage: Lions +2.5. No explanation necessary. The Lions won't give up anything on the ground again this week.
Revenge. After an embarrassing loss last year at the hands of the 2-8 Bucs, the Lions will be looking to avenge the 2013 version of themselves. Back-to-back losses to the Bucs at home -- in games they absolutely needed -- would be a new level of humiliation for the Lions.
Last week's prediction:
As tentative as I was about a Lions victory over the Bears, I still correctly predicted a victory. That moves On Paper to 9-3 on the year. In the comments section, we had another perfect prediction from now two-time winner BarryStillRules. Here's your prize, Barry:
You win your very own Reggie Bush medical questionnaire. If you ever want to self-evaluate whether you're healthy enough to play in this week's game, just consult this handy checklist!
This week's prediction:
The Lions have a pretty commanding +3.5 advantage. The two teams are actually very similar to each other. Both teams are having serious struggles on offense while seemingly improving every day on defense. The big difference is the Lions are one of the best defenses in the league, while the Bucs are just now climbing to an above-average defense. Throw in Matthew Stafford + Calvin Johnson > Josh McCown + Mike Evans, and you've got a pretty decisive victory. Lions 24, Bucs 9.