The Green Bay Packers are slumping at the exact wrong time. Having dropped four of their past five games, the Packers have fallen into second place in the NFC North with some tough games ahead of them on the schedule. The Detroit Lions are in the exact opposite boat. They're starting to finally hit their stride with the easy part of their schedule beyond the Packers this week. Though the two teams played less than three weeks ago, the perceptions of these teams have changed drastically since then. But are the teams really that different? Let's head to the charts:
Lions pass offense (17th in DVOA) vs. Packers pass defense (11th)
The Lions pass offense seems to have finally turned it around for the year. What's interesting is the Lions actually look like they started improving before they fired offensive coordinator (post-Vikings game). Since Week 6, the Lions have outgained or met passer rating averages in five of six games.
Not only have the Lions bounced up in Football Outsider's DVOA, but their raw statistics have reached an acceptable level. They rank 19th in passer rating (88.1), 20th in yards per attempt (7.0) and t-15th in completion percentage (64.0 percent). While those numbers won't blow anyone out of the water, they are finally average, and more importantly, the Lions pass offense is trending upwards. During his three-game winning streak, Matthew Stafford is averaging 287 passing yards, completing 65.8 percent of his passes and has thrown for seven touchdowns and just one interception.
The Packers pass defense is trending in the opposite direction. After sporting one of the best pass defenses through five games, the unit has fallen apart lately. In the last six games, the Packers have not held a single opponent significantly below their passer rating average.
Green Bay ranks seventh in passer rating allowed (82.7), fifth in completion percentage allowed (59.3 percent), but t-18th in yards per attempt allowed (7.4). The Packers are also t-ninth in interceptions (11), but have only had three picks in the past six games.
Player to watch: Theo Riddick. The #TheoRiddickHypeTrain is in full effect. Riddick leads all running backs in receptions and is second in receiving yards. If you need a visual representation of Riddick's impact, Christopher Tomke has a plethora of insane GIFs for you.
Advantage: Lions +1. Back in their first matchup, I gave the Packers a 1.5 advantage. Things have drastically changed since then. The Lions moved from 27th to 17th in DVOA, while the Packers have fallen from 10th to 11th. But the Packers have looked even worse than that.
Lions run offense (32nd) vs. Packers run defense (15th)
There has been a lot of buzz around Detroit that the Lions have turned around their running game. I don't buy it. While they are no longer putting up numbers like 30, 40 rushing yards a game, they still are averaging well below 4 yards per carry.
This team still does not run block very well and the raw statistics prove it. The Lions rank 29th in yards per carry (3.5) and still place last in percentage of runs earning first downs (15.2 percent). Additionally, they have the fifth-fewest rushes of 20+ yards and are one of 10 teams without a 40-yard rush on the season.
For all of the Packers' struggles lately, stopping the run has not been among them. Throughout the entire season, teams have struggled to run against Green Bay, with only four of 11 opponents surpassing their yards per carry average against the Packers. Only three of 11 managed to reach their rushing yards average.
Green Bay ranks t-19th in yards per carry allowed (4.2) and t-18th in percentage of carries earning first downs allowed (22.2 percent). Those stats are a bit misleading, however, as eight of their 11 games were against teams ranked 17th or higher in run offense.
Player to watch: Clay Matthews. If you're looking for a run-stopping machine, Matthews is your guy. He has 12 tackles for loss on the season, tied for 18th in the league.
Advantage: Packers +1.5. While the Green Bay run defense isn't a statistical darling, they are a very good unit. And it just so happens their best performance this year was against the Lions three weeks ago. Detroit will have a hard time getting things going again this week.
Packers pass offense (5th) vs. Lions pass defense (23rd)
This. This I am not used to. Aaron Rodgers almost always has a green chart, especially in the passer rating column. But Rodgers and the pass offense has been terribly inconsistent after a promising first three weeks. They've only outgained their opponents passer rating allowed average once in the past five games.
Despite their struggles, the Packers still rank seventh in passer rating (97.4), but 24th in completion percentage (60.4) and t-23rd yards per attempt (6.9). In other words, while Rodgers is still great at avoiding turnovers (second fewest interceptions) and throwing touchdowns (fourth most), his pass offense is still not very efficient.
The Lions pass defense has been on point in the last three weeks. Don't pay too much attention to the Eagles' passer rating "success", as almost all of their efficiency came after the game had already been decided. That all being said, the first eight games of the Lions' season cannot be ignored; the Lions were one of the worst defenses in the league before the bye week.
Detroit is allowing an average passer rating of 104.3 (31st), 7.9 yards per attempt (t-25th) and 68.8 completion percentage (30th). The good news is the last time the Lions and Packers faced off, Detroit had the 30th ranked pass defense in DVOA. Since then, they've jumped to 23rd. Again, the Lions are trending upward.
Player to watch: Darius Slay vs. James Jones. In the last matchup, Slay pitched a shutout, holding Jones to zero targets for the entire game. With Ty Montgomery out again this week and Davante Adams struggling to catch the ball, Green Bay will likely try to get Jones involved on Thursday, but will Slay let him?
Advantage: Packers +1. Though the Lions are trending upward and the Packers aren't the pass offense they once were, Rodgers is still the best quarterback in the game. If Glover Quin can't go for the Lions (listed as questionable), that could be a big advantage for Green Bay.
Packers run offense (9th) vs. Lions run defense (14th)
The Packers run game has been decent, but inconsistent all season. They've outgained their opponents' YPC allowed average in five of 11 games and yardage averages in six of 11.
Green Bay is averaging 4.4 yards per carry (ninth) and earning first downs on 23.3 percent of their rushes (12th). However, they only have four rushing touchdowns on the year (t-25th).
It may be surprising to see, but the Lions run defense has been great for nearly the entire season. Only two opponents outgained their YPC average against Detroit. And Detroit has been hitting their stride as of late, allowing under 70 yards and 3.0 yards per carry in three straight games.
Despite the impressive chart, the Lions statistics are still dragging behind. Detroit is allowing 4.0 yards per carry (t-13th) and first downs on 21.9 percent of rushes (t-15th). Frequent readers of this column know exactly why the Lions' statistics aren't as good as they should be: big plays. The Lions have allowed the ninth most 20-yard rushes (eight) and the most 40-yard rushes (four).
Player to watch: Eddie Lacy. Lacy stumbled through his first eight games in 2015. But in the past two weeks, Lacy has really turned it on, rushing for 205 total yards and 5.3 a carry.
Advantage: Lions +1. This may be the important matchup of the game, and the Lions appear to know it. All week the Lions' mantra has been stopping the Packers running game first. The Lions are well equipped to do this, holding Green Bay to just 47 yards and 2.6 YPC three weeks ago, but Lacy's recent resurgence is enough to give me some doubt about this matchup.
Desperation. I'm not one for emotion playing a big factor in the final outcome of a football game (hence the "off paper" section), but if there is a team that will be playing with more desperation, it will be the Packers. Of course, this was the exact narrative going into the Lions-Packers game just three weeks ago. Straight off the heels of two losses to the Broncos and Panthers, many believed Green Bay would take out their frustrations on the lowly Lions. Things didn't exactly work out that way.
Last week's prediction:
On Paper climbed back over .500 last week after predicting a narrow Lions victory. In the comment section, "jimmy.marshall2" was the closest to the final score, with his 45-21 prediction. But since Jimmy is a Cowboys fan and isn't likely to see this, he gets no prize...well, other than the Cowboys activating Kellen Moore from the practice squad this week. Enjoy that, Jimmy.
This week's prediction:
Unbelievably, the Packers only have a +0.5 advantage. Just three weeks ago, Green Bay concluded this column with a whopping +7 edge.
In truth, this game could go either way, and I just have no idea how it's going to play out. I could see the Lions playing a game very similarly to the previous matchup between the two. I could see Rodgers finally breaking out and throwing 30 points on the Lions defense. I could even see the Lions offense exploding for the second straight week. I don't know if the Lions can continue their decent play from the past three weeks, but if they can pull off this game, the rest of the season is going to get a lot more interesting. Lions 23, Packers 26.