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On Paper: Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders

This week's Lions preview predicts a very close matchup.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions face off against the Oakland Raiders this week for just the fourth time in 20 years. The Lions have won the previous three matchups, including a thrilling 28-27 victory the last time the two teams met up in 2011. You have to go all the way back to 1990 to find the last time the Raiders beat the Lions in Detroit. Of course, the Lions have only hosted the Raiders one time since then, but it's still a surprising discovery. Anyway, the Raiders come into Detroit as a one point favorite, despite dropping their last two games. Let's take an in-depth look at both teams.

Lions pass offense (26th in DVOA) vs. Raiders pass defense (20th)

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The Lions passing offense has been inconsistent all year. Although lately, they seemed to have turned it around. Matthew Stafford has surpassed the defense's passer rating allowed average in three of his last four games, leading to the Lions' only two victories on the year. Still, the Lions offense is several steps below expectations.

Detroit ranks just 24th in passer rating (82.6), t-25th in yards per attempt (6.7) and 19th in completion percentage (63.4). The Lions also have the second-most interceptions (13) and the 12th-most sacks allowed (22).

raiders pass d

The Raiders pass defense has been similarly unpredictable.  Though they've held five of nine opponents below their passer rating average, they've also allowed eight of nine to reach or surpass their yardage average. There were games where they've held decent pass offenses well below averages (Chargers, Browns). But Oakland has also struggled at times against underwhelming offenses (Ravens, Bears). Overall, they've just been a mixed bag.

The raw statistics paints an equally confusing story. Oakland ranks 15th in passer rating allowed (89.6), 16th in yards per attempt allowed (7.2), 19th in completion percentage allowed (64.2). They aren't particularly disruptive on defense, tallying just 19 sacks on the season (t-20th) and nine interceptions (t-11th).

Player to watch: Charles Woodson. Playing without the suspended Aldon Smith, the Raiders will rely even more upon their secondary to keep the Lions passing game at bay. Woodson, at 39 years old, is still playing at a high level, snagging in a league-leading five interceptions on the year.

Advantage: Draw. The Raiders don't pose that much of a pass rush threat, even with Smith in the lineup. But without him, we may actually see a week in which Stafford has some time in the pocket to throw. He's been very good when that has been the case, but we've yet to see an entire game in which Stafford has had that luxury. I'm cautiously optimistic about this matchup, but the lack of success all year prevents me from giving the Lions an advantage here.

Lions run offense (32nd) vs. Raiders run defense (22nd)

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No optimism here: the Lions run offense is still horrendous. The Lions have averaged less than three yards a carry in five of nine games this year and have failed to reach 60 rushing yards in five games.

To get a sense of how bad the Lions running game is: Stafford is third on the team in rushing yards...with 68 yards. This was a team that was supposed to have a dynamic running back squad, but in reality, Ameer Abdullah has been the team's biggest threat, running for just 3.5 yards per carry.

Overall, the Lions rank 30th in yards per carry (3.4) and are gaining first downs on 13.6 percent of carries, a full 3 percent fewer than any other team in the league.

raiders run d

Though the Raiders have been pretty good at defending the run all season, the past two weeks have really hurt the confidence of the unit, allowing a collective 458 yards at over 7 yards per carry against the Steelers and Vikings.

The raw data suggests the last two weeks are perhaps more representative of the Raiders' true defense than the chart above suggests. Oakland ranks t-28th in yards per carry allowed (4.7) and 31st in percentage of rushes allowed that earn first downs (25.7 percent).

I believe the last two weeks have skewed the data a bit, but there is still plenty of reason for concern in Oakland.

Player to watch: Khalil Mack. Mack will likely be lined up over Michael Ola, the name of the Lions' current turnstile at right tackle. Ola will likely start his first game as a Detroit Lion this week, and he faces a heavy task in Mack. Mack leads the team in tackles for loss this season with six.

Advantage: Raiders +1. I expect Oakland to bounce back this week, as the Lions do not pose anything resembling a rushing threat. Detroit's run game is broke beyond repair at this point, and the best they can hope for is 70-ish while averaging around 3.5 a carry.

Raiders pass offense (4th) vs. Lions pass defense (28th)

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The Raiders finally seem to have a passing game for the first time in recent memory. They have only failed to meet the defense's passer rating average in one game this season, and have racked up a ton of yardage in the process. Only twice were they unable to surpass defense's passing yards allowed average.

As a result, the Raiders' passing stats are well above average. They rank seventh in passer rating (100.5), 15th in yards per attempt (7.3) and 11th in completion percentage (65.1). Derek Carr has thrown 21 touchdowns to just six interceptions this year.

This unit has been led by the emergence of rookie receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper is averaging 81.3 yards per game. In comparison, Calvin Johnson is just a tick above that at 82.2 yards per game.

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Last week's performance from the Lions pass defense sticks out like a sore thumb. A baffling, wonderful sore thumb. It marked only the second time all season Detroit held an opponent under a 100 passer rating, and they did it against the best quarterback in the league and the second-best passing attack they faced all year.

Whether the Lions will be able to capture that magic from last week again this week against the Raiders (or any other time this season, for that matter), is anyone's guess. But the overall statistics from this unit seem to paint a dreary picture. Detroit still ranks 31st in passer rating allowed (105.7), 28th in yards per attempt (8.0), and 32nd in completion percentage (70.0).

To further stack the odds against them, this week the Lions lost starting nickelback Josh Wilson for the year. Additionally, Nevin Lawson, who played so promising while filling in for injured Rashean Mathis, may also be sidelined with a concussion this week.

Player to watch: Cooper vs. Darius Slay. Slay turned heads this week after a dominant performance in Green Bay. Slay may not follow Cooper the entire game, but anytime the two are matched up against each other, it will be must-see TV.

Advantage: Raiders +2. The Lions gave their fans hope that a glimmer from 2014 was still left in this currently 2-7 team. However, the Raiders passing offense hasn't been struggling like the Packers have been lately. And considering all of the injuries the Lions are battling through in the secondary, it's hard to see the Lions repeating their performance from Week 10. Things could turn ugly again. Very ugly.

Raiders run offense (18th) vs. Lions run defense (23rd)

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It's very hard to get a read on this Raiders run offense. The running game is clearly not the focus of Oakland's offense, but it has been great at times and completely non-existent at other. In both yardage and yards per carry, they've outgained defensive averages in four of nine games.

The Raiders' running game is led by Latavius Murray, a sixth-round pick from 2013. Murray is averaging a very respectable 4.7 yards per carry on the year and is sixth in the league in rushing yards.

But as good as he's been, the Raiders' running game is still somewhat average. As a team, they're averaging 4.4 yards per carry (ninth) and 102.3 rushing yards per game (20th).

lions run d

The Lions run defense continues to confuse. The good news is that they have held six of nine opponents below their yards per carry average. The bad news is they've ceded over 180 rushing yards in three of nine games this year. They've been terribly inconsistent and it's hard to know the true identity of this unit.

Overall, they are allowing 4.2 yards per carry (22nd), but have allowed a league-high 14 rushing touchdowns. However, it's worth noting that seven of the Lions' nine opponents rank in the top half of the league in rushing yards. The Lions defense has had a tough road, and they've held up relatively well.

Player to watch: Rodney Hudson. The Raiders' starting center suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago against the Steelers. Hudson returned to practice for the first time (albeit in a limited role) on Thursday and could very well return this week. If Hudson can play, it will likely bolster a running game that struggled a bit in his absence.

Advantage: Draw. The Lions run defense is better than advertised. If not for the occasional long-play, this would be a very good defense. However, you cannot completely ignore the big plays. If the Lions can avoid letting Murray break one loose, they should be fine in this matchup.

Off paper:

Kickoffs. After Ameer Abdullah's big kickoff return last week, the Lions rank first in the league in both return yards and return yard average. The Raiders are one of four teams that have allowed a kick return touchdown. However, despite that one return, the Raiders still rank 14th in kick return coverage.

Last week's prediction:

On Paper's Week 10 prediction, like almost everybody's, was embarrassingly off. 38-17 Packers? Eh, not so much. The loss dropped this column to 5-4 on the year.

In the predictions comment section, ncbur10 was one of the few, bold users to actually pick the Lions. And his score prediction of 23-20 was impressively close to the 18-16 final. To celebrate the hiring of new Lions president Rod Wood, here is your prize:


It's big. It's heavy. It's wood*. Uses include: rolling down stars, great for a snack, fits on your back, and, most of all, rolls over your neighbor's dog.

*powdered toast sold separately

This week's prediction:

The Raiders edge out the Lions with a +3 advantage. Most of this advantage stems from the crucial matchup between the Raiders' pass offense and the Lions' pass defense. If the Lions could somehow catch lightning in a bottle again this week in the secondary, they'll have a real chance to win this game. But I think this Raiders passing attack is much better than Green Bay's right now. And since the Lions are suffering from some unfortunate injuries, I just don't see the stars aligning two weeks in a row. Lions 20, Raiders 30.

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