As the Detroit Lions (1-6) prepare to play in London for the second consecutive year, the Kansas City Chiefs (2-5) are just now finding their footing in London. Detroit comes into the game with relative optimism now that their ineffective offensive coordinator has been let go. The Chiefs, too, are hopeful after winning their second game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Which team will continue to ride this pseudo-hope into the bye week? Let's get into it.
Lions pass offense (20th) vs. Chiefs pass defense (24th)
This may surprise you, but the Lions pass offense has actually been about average so far this season. After a pretty horrendous start, Matthew Stafford has posted two consecutive games with a passer rating above 100. Additionally, the Lions continue to put up a lot of passing yards, ranking seventh in the league with 278.6 yards per game.
However, pretty much every other stat ranks this offense as pedestrian. Detroit ranks 22nd in passer rating (84.3), 24th in yards per attempt (6.8) and 17th in completion percentage (63.8 percent).
Most of the Lions' passing offense issues can be related back to quarterback protection. Last week, the Lions were sacks seven times, bumping their yearly total to 16 (12th-most). For a team that likes to get the ball out early, 16 sacks is a very high number.
While the Chiefs look like they may have turned things around in the past two weeks, the rest of the season, they have not done well defending the pass. They've only held one opponent significantly below their passing yards average and two below their passer rating averages. However, take the final row in the chart with a grain of salt, as Landry Jones made his first career start against the Chiefs last week.
Overall, the Chiefs rank 19th in passer rating allowed (93.1), t-19th in yards per attempt (7.6), and seventh in completion percentage (59.4 percent). Their 15 sacks on the season also ranks them t-15th in the league.
Player to watch: Tamba Hali. Again, pass protection will be the key to this matchup. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali is arguably the Chiefs' best pass rusher, with 3 sacks on the season.
Advantage: Lions +1. I'm giving the Lions the edge here for a few reasons. First, I think the Lions pass protection will be improved with Brandon Pettigrew, the Lions' best blocking tight end, likely back in the lineup. Secondly, I think with Jim Bob Cooter as the Lions' interim offensive coordinator, the offense may see a small, but noticeable boost. You have to imagine one of Cooter's first acts as acting offensive coordinator was to throw plays like this in the trash.
Lions run offense (32nd) vs. Chiefs run defense (13th)
The Lions running game had hope again last week, before the Lions abandoned any semblance of a running game before it was too late in the fourth quarter. Overall, this is still a unit that is not very good, despite averaging 116 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry over the past two weeks.
Detroit is averaging just 3.5 YPC on the season (31st), while they are gaining a first down on 14.7 percent of carries (32nd).
The Chiefs are much better at defending the run than they are the pass. They've held four of seven opponents below their YPC average. The only real flub on their chart came last week against the Steelers, when Le'Veon Bell ran wild against the Chiefs.
Kansas City is holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry (t-ninth) while only allowing first downs on 21.0 percent of rushes (ninth).
Player to watch: Jaye Howard. Howard is in a contract year and he is making the most of it. He has been the Chiefs' best run stopper this year and already has six tackles for loss this season.
Advantage: Chiefs +2. The Lions are dying to get their running game going to take the pressure off Stafford and the passing game, but this doesn't look like the week where it's going to happen. Despite their poor record, the Chiefs still boast a pretty good run defense, and unless Cooter has something up his sleeves, the Lions are going to struggle on the ground again.
Chiefs pass offense (17th) vs. Lions pass defense (31st)
The Chiefs pass offense isn't explosive, but isn't too shabby. This is also a perfect description of their quarterback, Alex Smith. Smith is the kind of passer that will go the extra mile just to not take a risk. As a result, Smith does not turn the ball over very often. He only has three interceptions this season, and only had six in all of 2014.
As a team, Kansas City ranks 13th in passer rating (90.3), t-12th in yards per attempt (7.5) and 20th in completion percentage (62.8 percent).
In terms of protection, the Chiefs have not done a very good job keeping Smith clean. Kansas City has allowed 26 sacks on the season, tied for second-most in the league.
The Detroit Lions are bad at defending the pass this year, really bad. Every single quarterback outgained their passer rating average against the Lions and most of them put up more yards than they are used to, too.
Overall, the Lions still rank last in passer rating allowed, and yards per attempt allowed. But, good news! They're only second-to-last in completion percentage allowed.
Big plays are absolutely killing this defense. The Lions have allowed the second-most passing plays of 20+ yards (31) and the third-most of 40+ yards (seven).
Player to watch: Travis Kelce. Kelce is the Chiefs' biggest non-wide receiver threat in the passing game. He leads the team in receiving touchdowns and is second on the team in yards. The Lions don't have a particularly good group of linebackers to cover the tight end position, especially with DeAndre Levy continuing to warm the bench.
Advantage: Chiefs +1. The Chiefs have the clear advantage in this matchup, but since the Chiefs' passing game is not all that necessary to their success, they only get a +1. In their two wins this season, the Chiefs had two of their lowest passing yards outputs of the season. If the Chiefs aren't passing for a lot of yards, that's usually a good sign for them.
Chiefs run offense (9th) vs. Lions run defense (18th)
Last season, the Chiefs had one of the best running games in the NFL. This season, they've taken a significant step back. Obviously, the loss of Jamaal Charles hurt, but regardless, the Chiefs haven't quite found the magic that they had last season.
That being said, this is still a pretty formidable rushing attack. They rank t-11th in YPC (4.3) and earn first downs on 24.9 percent of carries (t-fifth). Even more impressively, they've racked up these stats despite only having three rushes of 20+ yards on the season. That tells me that the Chiefs have a steady, efficient running game, but not one that will bust out huge chunks of yards at a time.
...and that is great news for the Lions, because they have the opposite problem. The Lions defense will go long periods of time rendering their opponents' running back completely useless, and then give up a huge play. Last week was the perfect example, as the Lions held Adrian Peterson to 23 yards on 18 carries. But Peterson broke out one 75-yard rush toward the end of the game, completely ruining the Lions' box score.
This has been a trend all year, as the Lions have allowed the seventh-most rushes of 20+ yards (6) and the second-most rushes of 40+ yards (3).
Player to watch: Charcandrick West. West has taken over the majority of carries with Charles out for the rest of the year. The second year, undrafted back had a breakout game last week, rushing for 110 yards and a score against the Steelers.
Advantage: Draw. The Lions have a very good chance of winning this matchup, since the Chiefs are without their premier back. But because the Lions are so vulnerable to the big play, you can never be sure. I don't think Kansas City will have a great day running the ball, but it wouldn't shock me to see them reach 100 yards, either.
Off paper: Travel. The Lions left for London on Monday night and arrived Tuesday morning. The Chiefs elected to leave Thursday night. I know Andy Reid insists that so far, this decision hasn't had any impact on the outcomes of games, and he may be right, but common sense tells you that 48 hours isn't sufficient to battle jet lag. I understand the benefits of practicing and preparing in the comforts of your own facility, but jet lag is no myth.
Last week's prediction:
Last week, On Paper got back on track with a fairly solid 20-10 Vikings prediction (actually score was 28-19). This column is now 4-3 on the year.
We had a near-perfect prediction in the "Staff Picks" comment section, as Honalulublue chose a score of 27-20 Vikings. For your prize, I received the first copy of the Detroit Lions' new album. You may have seen earlier in the week, the photo cover of the album was leaked, but it actually wasn't the finished product. Here is the final product, and it's yours, Honalulublue.
This week's prediction:
The Chiefs end up with a small +2 advantage. I think this game remains close the entire contest. The Lions run defense is good enough to give the Chiefs problems when they have the ball. And Kansas City's pass defense is bad enough to open the opportunity for a breakout game for the Lions offense. However, the Lions don't have much of a chance at a running game this week, and the Chiefs should be able to move the ball efficiently through the air. In other words, a lot of things have to go right for the Lions, while a lot of things should go right for the Chiefs. Lions 16, Chiefs 23.