The Detroit Lions will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Sunday Night Football” on NBC. This could be a season-defining game for the Lions. If they can come out and win in primetime, it puts them right in the hunt for the NFC North. If they lose, they’ll be looking at their third straight loss before heading to Lambeau Field in Week 9.
Here are 10 things I think I know heading into Week 8 against the Steelers:
1. I think NFL offenses stink right now. If you thought it was just the Lions that are struggling on offense, think again. Last Sunday seven teams failed to score an offensive touchdown. And three teams—the Colts, Cardinals, and Broncos—were shut out completely. It seems to be a league wide split between those who have an offense and those who don’t.
2. I think the Lions will give up at least five sacks on Sunday. Greg Robinson (ankle) didn’t participate in Monday's practice, and my guess is he’ll be questionable at best heading into Week 8. That leaves former Steeler, Brian Mihalik as the primary option to protect Matthew Stafford’s blindside. Gulp.
3. I think the Pittsburgh Steelers offense goes through Le'veon Bell. It seems strange that a team with wide receivers like Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey would live and die through the run game, but Bell might just be the best running back in football. Bell has topped 134 yards on the ground in three of his last four games. He’s already rushed for 504 yards in October alone—the exact same amount of rushing yards the entire Lions offense has for the entire season.
4. I think the Lions need to win the turnover battle to win the game. The Lions are currently fourth in the NFL in turnover differential with nine interceptions and five fumbles. The Lions will need to have their defense show up big and the offense to limit the crippling turnovers that cost them against the Saints.
5. I think the Lions offense is obviously holding them back. Through seven weeks of football the Lions have the first ranked special teams unit, the seventh ranked defense, and the 23rd ranked offense, the Lions according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metrics. If the Lions could only get their offense to perform in the middle of the pack their team efficiency would be top 10 in the league. Alas, there’s been nothing as of yet to convince me the offense is trending up at this point.
6. I think I agree with Mike Payton that the Lions have no excuse to not win the NFC North.
7. I think the Lions need to force the game into Big Ben’s hands. Roethlisberger isn’t the same quarterback he was even just a few years ago. The Steelers game plan is to feed Bell the ball and not put too much on Roethlisberger’s shoulders. In their last two wins, he only threw the ball 49 times—25 times in Week 6 and 24 times in Week 7.
8. I think Kenny Golladay could be a nice boost to a sputtering Lions offense. Golladay gives the Lions something no one else on the team has, size and speed. Through the first three weeks Golladay was playing over 60 percent of the offensive snaps. With Golden Tate almost certainly out this week, I expect that number could be even higher on Sunday.
9. I think the Lions need to establish the run. Unless the Lions can miraculously come out of the bye week with their pass game figured out, their going to have to play this game similar to their victories over the Giants and Vikings. They need to run the clock, throw when it’s necessary, and keep the Steelers’ offense on the sidelines.
10. I think this game is winnable, but I wouldn’t bet on it. The Lions have lost their last two home games and have a few too many question marks coming out of the bye week. If there is a glimmer of hope heading into this game, it’s this: so far this season the bye week has been beneficial for teams, with five out of eight teams winning after coming off their bye.