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Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers preview: On Paper

Our preview is seeing another potential shootout for the Detroit Lions.

After a devastating week of injuries, the Detroit Lions head to the place where they've had the least amount of success over the past 20 years. Though the Lions finally put an end to the drought last year in Lambeau, the Green Bay Packers always present a difficult challenge. Detroit has actually won three of the past five matchups, but going beyond that, the Packers had won five straight.

With both teams coming off of a loss in Week 2, the Packers enter this game as roughly seven point favorites. Let's see what the charts have to say about that.

[Note: Again, we are predominantly using 2015 data since the sample size is still extraordinarily small. Starting next week, we will move to solely 2016 data.]

Lions pass offense (15th in DVOA in 2015) vs. Packers pass defense (6th)

Matthew Stafford's streak of nine straight games with a passer rating of 84 or above came to an end last week after the loss to the Tennessee Titans. Stafford's streak of 17 straight games with a completion percentage of 60 or higher was also snapped at the conclusion of the previously mentioned game.

The Lions' pass offense was hurt drastically by the receivers, who combined for seven drops against the Titans. But Detroit also had some trouble in pass protection. Stafford was sacked four times on Sunday and hit an additional two times.

Last year, the Packers had one of the best pass defenses in the league. they started off and finished the season by holding the majority of the opposing quarterbacks well below their passer rating average.

However, 2016 hasn't been quite as fortuitous for the Packers' defense. In Week 1, Blake Bortles didn't have much trouble moving the offense, completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 300 yards. The following week, Sam Bradford, with just two weeks of practice under his belt, lit up the packers secondary to the tune of 254 yards and two touchdowns.

Where the Packers defense has had success is in generating pressure up front. Through two weeks, Green Bay has seven sacks, good for third-most in the NFL. However, they are also allowing opposing quarterbacks to earn an average passer rating of 101.2, which ranks 22nd overall.

Player to watch: Damarious Randall. It looks like the Packers are going to be without their top corner Sam Shields again, so Randall will have to step up in his absence. Randall had a solid 2016 debut, but without the aid of Shields against the Vikings, he was torched by Stefon Diggs and the rest of the Minnesota offense.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. The Lions passing offense has been very solid through two weeks. Though the team struggled to put the ball in the end zone against the Titans (without a flag showing up), they were consistently moving the ball. The Packers' pass rush is a serious concern in this matchup, but if the Lions' quick-pass attack can continue to be successful, it may not matter much.

Lions run offense (27th) vs. Packers run defense (19th)

In 2015, the Lions' rushing attack was a disaster to start the year. After Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator in Week 8, you can see that the Lions run offense—while still below average—started to put up more acceptable numbers.

That forward momentum has carried into 2016, and the Lions appear to have something resembling an above-average running game through two weeks. Statistically, the Lions have the ninth-most rushing yards per game (126.5) and third-best yards per carry (5.4).

However, the Lions lost Ameer Abdullah for the foreseeable future as he had surgery this week and was placed on injured reserve. Backup Theo Riddick has looked to be solid as a replacement, averaging 4.6 a carry, but isn't as talented of a rusher as Abdullah.

While the Packers had an average run defense last year, they have been absolutely lights out in 2016. They rank first in just about every category you can think of. Rushing yards allowed (39.0 per game), yards per carry allowed (1.6), and they have yet to allow a rush of over 12 yards.

Their run defense has been led by defensive tackle Letroy Guion, who leads the team with three tackles for loss. However, Guion has yet to practice all week due to a knee injury.

Player to watch: Riddick. I've been skeptical of Riddick as a between the tackles runner, but through two weeks, he's done an admirable job. Now expected to take on the bulk of the carries, he'll have his job cut out for him against Green Bay.

Advantage: Packers +2. I'm not quite a believer in the Lions' running game yet, and the injury to Abdullah is a huge blow. On the other side, I don't think Green Bay's defense is quite this good, but that front seven is definitely the team's biggest strength.

Packers pass offense (16th) vs. Lions pass defense (19th)

It's panic time in Green Bay over Aaron Rodgers. Has he peaked? Is he no longer elite? Was he ever truly elite?

While most of these questions are downright ridiculous, there's no question Rodgers hasn't been the outstanding quarterback we're used to seeing every week. He hasn't had a passer rating over 100 since Week 6 last year, however, he's had one above 95 on four separate occasions since then.

The return of Jordy Nelson hasn't proven to be quite fruitful yet: the 31-year-old receiver has pulled in just 105 yards total, but has found the end zone twice.

One big issue with the Packers passing game is protection. Against the Vikings, Rodgers was sacked five times. T.J. Lang has stepped up after the shocking release of Josh Sitton, but Lang sat out practice on Thursday and could be questionable to play on Sunday.

The Lions' pass defense rebounded toward the end of last year, but has fallen back on old habits through two weeks in 2016. Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota combined for five touchdowns and one interception against the Lions defense, with both quarterbacks reaching a passer rating above 100.

Detroit has been plagued by defensive injuries throughout the first two weeks. Ezekiel Ansah looks like he'll be out for several weeks, which should put a huge dent in the team's ability to rush the passer. At linebacker, the Lions have lost DeAndre Levy, Kyle Van Noy, and Antwione Williams in the first two weeks, leaving just Tahir Whitehead and Thurston Armbrister as the only two healthy players on the active roster. Of the injured, only Van Noy had practiced (in a limited fashion) by Thursday.

Player to watch: Randall Cobb. The easy answer here would be tight end Jared Cook, because tight ends have shredded the Lions' depleted linebacking corps through two weeks. However, Cobb could do just as much, if not more, damage over the middle of the field.

Advantage: Packers +2.5. While there is some truth to the worries surrounding Aaron Rodgers, it is mostly overblown. As Nelson continues to get healthier and Rodgers more comfortable with his supporting cast, I think this Green Bay offense is going to start looking a lot like the offense of old really soon. Against a defense that is crumbling at every single level, Rodgers shouldn't have much resistance in order to get back to his winning ways.

Packers run offense (10th) vs. Lions run defense (14th)

Like much of last year, the Packers running game has been pretty average, if not inconsistent. At times, it looks like Eddie Lacy is back to punishing defenders. At other times, it looks like he's stuck in neutral.

Overall, however, Lacy looks better than last year. He's averaging 4.3 a carry so far in 2016, but hasn't rushed for over 65 yards in a game yet. It's still very early in the season, but let's call this rushing attack average for the time being.

It may surprise you to see that the Lions actually had an above-average run defense last season. Stopping the run has been a priority with this team ever since the days of Ndamukong Suh.

In 2016, that goal hasn't quite been reached. Though Detroit has been okay at limiting runs on the ground, last week they allowed a big rush of 67 yards from DeMarco Murray that threw off all of the numbers. At this point, the Lions are allowing a league-high 5.1 yards per carry, even though they've only allowed one carry of over 20 yards.

Player to watch: Khyri Thornton. As noted in last week's snap counts, Thornton has been getting more playing time than starter Tyrunn Walker. Walker has been limited at practice this week with an ankle injury, so I would expect to see more of Thornton again this week.

Advantage: Even. I think both the Lions' defense and the Packers' offense are better than they have showed yet this year. But with such a huge advantage for the Packers in the passing game, I'm not sure this matchup will amount to anything for either team.

Last week’s prediction:

On Paper predicted a narrow Lions victory over the Titans, but warned of the upset. That moves this column to 1-1 straight up and 2-0 against the spread.

In the comment section, we only had three total predictions of the Titans winning—including our own Alex Reno. But the closest to the final score was LionOwl with his 27-20 prediction. LionOwl doesn't have an avatar for the site, so today, I will gift him what I hope will be his new avatar, because this is what I see in my head every time he comments:



This week's prediction:

The Packers come out with a pretty significant +3 advantage. This game has shootout written all over it, and I just don't think the Lions will be able to keep pace. Though I think the Lions offense could be one of the best in the league, we haven't seen them operate without the benefit of a solid running game. Considering the Abdullah injury and the Packers' stout run defense, I would be very surprised to see the Lions run the ball with any success on Sunday. That leaves the game almost completely in Stafford's hands, and I think he'll just have to do way too much to keep this one close. Packers 34, Lions 20.

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