After their first win of the season, the Detroit Lions (1-5) hope to continue their fortune against the Minnesota Vikings (3-2). The two teams faced off in Week 2, and the Vikings convincingly won in a game that wasn't as competitive as the 26-16 score would imply. Since then, the Vikings have rattled off two wins in three games. There's still a little bad blood left over from the previous matchup, but let's "suck it up" and head straight into the dirty charts.
Lions pass offense (21st) vs. Vikings pass defense (14th)
Things are looking a lot different for the Lions pass offense after an impressive performance against the Bears. Granted, Chicago's defense is anything but a world-beater, but Detroit still significantly outperformed their defensive averages last Sunday. They've now outgained yardage averages in four of six games, and passer rating averages in two of six.
While those statistics look better, the raw statistics are still dreadful. The Lions rank 25th in passer rating (80.3), 28th in yards per attempt (6.5) and 17th in completion percentage (63.3 percent). While part of this can be attributed to the tough defenses the Lions have played (Detroit has played the third, fourth, eighth and 13th ranked pass defense by passer rating), there's no doubt that the Lions have been their own worst enemy at times. Matthew Stafford is second in the league in interceptions, with nine.
The Vikings pass defense has been the very definition of average through six weeks. Though they've held three of five opponents below yardage averages, four of five opponents met their passer rating average. It is important to note the Vikings have not played very difficult passing offenses so far. With the exception of the Chargers, Minnesota has not faced another passing offense that averages a passer rating above 90. Of course, the Lions are one of those "bad" pass offenses.
Overall, Minnesota ranks eighth in passer rating allowed (84.4), eighth in yards per attempt (6.9) and 12th in completion percentage (62.3).
In the last matchup, the Lions were able to perform around average for the Vikings defense, but a lot of that yardage came in garbage time at the end of the game. For the most part, the Vikings held the Lions passing offense in check.
Player to watch: Everson Griffen. Griffen sat out last week with a mysterious illness, but all signs point to a return this week. Griffen is the Vikings' premier pass rusher, and he sacked Stafford once in their Week 2 matchup. Pass protection will be key in this matchup and Griffen is the biggest threat to that.
Advantage: Vikings + 0.5. This matchup is surprisingly between both team's strongest units. The Vikings dominated last game, but they haven't really been stellar all year. Detroit certainly turned around their offensive fortunes last week, but it's hard to know how much of that was a result of playing the Bears' defense. Don't expect the Lions offense to blow up again this week, but if they can stay away from turnovers and sacks, they may be able to have an efficient day.
Lions run offense (31st) vs. Vikings run defense (26th)
What's this? What's this? I can't believe my eyes! The Lions, after having a historically terrible run defense through five weeks, not only doubled their previous highest rushing yard total, but they did so while outgaining the Bears' defensive averages. It's only fair to point out that 67 of those rushing yards came from Stafford and a fake punt, but Detroit still did have a decent amount of success running the ball anyway. Lions running backs combined for 91 yards at 3.8 a carry. Those aren't explosive numbers, but they're a huge step up from previous weeks.
Leftover optimism from last week aside, this is still a struggling running game. Detroit is only averaging 3.4 yards a carry and is gaining a first down on 14.3 percent of carries, the lowest rate in the NFL.
The Vikings run defense is very hard to figure out. They completely stopped the Lions in Week 2 and rendered a Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs offense completely moot. But a good 49ers run game and a poor Broncos rushing attack tore apart this Vikings defense.
Minnesota is allowing 4.5 yards per carry (t-23rd) and first downs on 24.0 percent of carries (23rd). Overall, this seems like a below-average run defense, which could open up another opportunity for the Lions running game to have another week of moderate success.
Player to watch: Joique Bell. With Zach Zenner out for the year, the Lions may have to rely on Bell for their power running game. Bell has been out for the past three weeks with an ankle injury, but seems likely to return this week. If not, George Winn will likely get a few carries.
Advantage: Vikings +0.5. I'm not yet ready to declare the Lions' running game as fixed, but last week was promising for this unit. Even though Minnesota dominated the matchup in Week 2, I think the Lions have a good chance to put up acceptable numbers. But don't expect another 150+ yard day.
Teddy Bridgewater hasn't done much to keep the "Sophomore Slump" predictors at bay. Though he's been efficient in two games this season, he and the rest of the Vikings pass offense has been downright awful in the other three.
The Vikings rank 24th in passer rating (80.4), 17th in yards per attempt (7.0) and 14th in completion percentage (64.4). Those numbers aren't disastrous, but they represent a well-below average passing game.
The Lions' pass defense has been disappointingly horrible this year. They've only held one opponent below an 100 passer rating, and the opponent still outgained their averages for that game.
Detroit ranks last in passer rating allowed (110.3), yards per attempt allowed (9.1) and completion percentage allowed (73.7 percent).
Player to watch: Stefon Diggs. The Vikings' fifth round draft pick made his NFL debut against the Broncos in Week 4. He had six receptions for 87 yards in that game. He followed up that performance last week with seven catches for 129 yards. Diggs is exactly the kind of agile slot receiver that has given the Lions trouble in the past. With the Lions' starting nickel corner, Josh Wilson, still suffering from a concussion, this could be a huge opportunity for the Vikings to exploit.
Advantage: Draw. This is a true weakness vs. weakness matchup. The Lions have yet to hold an opponent significantly below their passer rating average, while the Vikings have only reached 200 yards passing in two games this season. There's no clear advantage here, and I don't expect this matchup to be very important to the overall result of the game, anyway.
Vikings run offense (19th) vs. Lions run defense (24th)
The Vikings run game has been inconsistent this year. Though they've averaged over 4.0 yards per carry in four of five games and have reached 100+ yards in three games, they've also been held at or below YPC averages in three of five games this season. Last week, Adrian Peterson was completely neutralized against the Chiefs.
As Christopher Tomke pointed out Thursday, a lot of the Vikings' running success has come from splash plays. In fact, the Vikings lead the league in 40+ yard rushes this year (3) and rank third in rushes of 20+ yards (6).
The Lions' run defense has been equally inconsistent. They've held four of six opponents below their YPC average, but have allowed over 180 rushing yards twice already this year.
And just like the Vikings run offense, the Lions run defense has become defined by big plays. Detroit has allowed the seventh-most running plays of 20+ yards (5) and the second-most rushes of 40+ yards (2).
Player to watch: Haloti Ngata. Ngata has been sidelined the past two weeks with a calf injury, but he's lining up to return this week. The Lions have been shorthanded at the defensive tackle position ever since Tyrunn Walker was placed on IR, so Ngata's return this week could be huge.
Advantage: Vikings +0.5. Though Peterson blew up the Lions earlier in the season, both units have been inconsistent enough to a point where this matchup could go either way. I gave the Vikings the nod here only because Peterson can win this matchup with one, big carry, which the Lions have shown a tendency to give up.
Off paper: Special teams. Here's something you probably haven't heard about the Lions: they currently rank third in kickoff return average. Though the Vikings haven't allowed a kick return of longer than 32 yards, that extra field position advantage could be the difference-maker in a such a close matchup.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper fell to 3-3 on the season after predicting another Lions loss. Not only that, but I predicted a low-scoring affair. Not my greatest week.
Fellow writer/editor Ryan Mathews, however, nailed his prediction. He even called his shot in the super-secret Pride of Detroit chat room:
Even though it was Alex Reno's idea, I must oblige. Here's your prize, Ryan:
This week's prediction:
The Vikings have just a +1.5 advantage. All of the advanced statistics and charts point to this Minnesota team being not as good as advertised. This is also a strange matchup where each team's weaknesses are matched up again weaknesses and strengths vs. strengths. That leaves us with a game that could really go in either direction. If the Lions have truly turned things around on offense, this week provides another opportunity to continue their success. But Week 2's beatdown looms largely, and it's hard to completely overlook that. Vikings 17, Lions 13.