Congratulations. You’ve made it to the season finale of On Paper. The Detroit Lions’ 2017 season comes to a whimper of an end on Sunday as they face the rival Green Bay Packers.
It has been a whirlwind of a season for both teams. After Week 4’s win over the Vikings, the Lions were on top of the division and up to No. 2 in the power rankings. It was pretty much all downhill from there.
For the Packers, the season shattered with Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone in Minnesota. There was a blip of hope when he came back for a single game against the Panthers, but those hopes were thoroughly squashed after an uncharacteristic three-interception performance ended their season.
Now the two face off for a meaningless game. But, hey, Detroit could sweep the Packers for the first time since 1991. Let’s see if they’ll do it.
Lions pass offense (12th) vs. Packers pass defense (22nd)
Against the Bengals, Matthew Stafford was unable to reach the defense’s passer rating average for the first time in over two months. Stafford is having a career year, with a personal high in yards per attempt (7.7) and just 0.1 point away from his career best passer rating (97.1).
As a team, the Lions rank eighth in passer rating (96.1), t-seventh in yards per attempt (7.7) and fifth in completion percentage (65.4).
The offensive line remains a problem, but they may be healthier than normal, as all five starting offensive linemen have practiced this week.
The Packers pass defense has been god awful pretty much all year. In seven of 15 games, opposing quarterbacks have passes for a rating over 100, and seven of their last eight opponents have outgained their passer rating average against the Pack.
Green Bay ranks 30th in passer rating allowed (99.7), t-28th in yards per attempt (7.7), and dead-last in completion percentage (67.8).
They’re also suffering from a ton of injuries right now. Both starting cornerbacks, Davon House and Damarious Randall, have been limited in practice, while three linebackers also don the injury list.
Player to watch: Eric Ebron.
How about this:— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 25, 2017
Since the bye week, Ebron is:
- 5th among TEs in receiving yards (380)
- 5th in receptions (34)
- Has the 3rd highest catch rate (73.9%) among the top 15 TEs in receiving yards
Advantage: Lions +3. Everything in this matchup goes in the Lions’ favor. They’re far healthier, they’re trending in the right direction, and Matthew Stafford is having one of the best years of his career. The only worry in this matchup for Detroit is their ability to protect the passer. However, Green Bay’s two best pass rushers—Nick Perry and Clay Matthews—both missed last week and could be out again on Sunday.
Lions run offense (30th) vs. Packers run defense (8th)
You could make the argument that the Lions’ running game is slowly crawling towards mediocrity over the past few games, but it would be a tenuous argument at best. The Lions have faced some pretty poor run defenses over the past four weeks and they still haven’t rushed for 100 yards in six weeks.
It’s hard to make an argument that this isn’t the worst running offense in the league. They’re last in yards per game (78.0), yards per carry (3.4) and 31st in percentage of rushes that earn first downs (15.9).
The Packers’ run defense has looked very good at times, but has slowed as of late. They’ve allowed over 100 yards rushing and 4.0 YPC or more in four of five games. That includes an embarrassingly bad performance against a bottom-five Bucs running game.
Though they’re highly ranked in DVOA, the raw statistics aren’t quite as kind. Green Bay ranks t-eighth in YPC allowed (4.0), 15th in percentage of rushes allowed that earn first downs (20.6), and have allowed the 11th-most rushes of 20+ yards (11).
Player to watch: Blake Martinez. With all of the injuries around him, the second-year linebacker has taken every opportunity to shine. Martinez leads the entire league in tackles (138) and he leads the Packers in tackles for loss (9).
Advantage: Packers +1. Green Bay is hurting and the Lions may have something in Tion Green, but there’s still no reason to believe Detroit will be able to run the ball successfully on Sunday. Last time the two teams faced, Detroit couldn’t even hit 2.0 YPC.
Packers pass offense (20th) vs. Lions pass defense (16th)
Brett Hundley does not equal Aaron Rodgers. That much is clear. But trying to figure out who Brett Hundley is has proven to be a tricky task. He is a completely different quarterback week to week. Just look at home/road split:
Brett Hundley's home/away split is ridiculous and counterintuitive— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) December 27, 2017
Home: 55.6 comp%, 4.85 Y/A, 0 TDs, 7 INTs, 50.6 passer rating
Away: 67.7 comp%, 6.76 Y/A, 8 TDs, 3 INTs, 97.6 passer rating
Overall, he has not been all that impressive. Here’s how he compares to other qualifying quarterbacks:
Completion percentage: 61.0% (24th)
Yards per attempt: 5.7 (33rd—last)
Passer rating: 71.5 (30th)
It’s going to be even tougher for Hundley this week, as it looks like he’ll be missing both Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson, who have missed the first two practices of the week.
I haven’t really bothered to look too closely at this chart all year, but it’s pretty clear the Lions are running a bend-don’t-break pass defense. They’re giving up a TON of yards every week, but have managed to hold eight of 15 quarterbacks below their passer rating average.
They rank 15th in passer rating allowed (85.3), t-23rd in yards per attempt (7.3) and t-23rd in completion percentage (64.3).
In other words, they’re a slightly below average pass defense, which lines up nicely with their DVOA ranking.
Player to watch: Teez Tabor. With Nevin Lawson likely out on Sunday with a concussion, the second-round rookie is likely to get a lot more playing time. He’s had an up-and-down year, but it’ll be nice to see him out there potentially as a starter—he technically started last week, too.
Advantage: Lions +1.5. The Lions haven’t been great at defending the pass all year, but this seems like a perfect opportunity to finish strong. Green Bay’s weapons are completely depleted, and Hundley is coming off one of the ugliest performances I’ve seen this year. Hundley has thrown for a passer rating below 50 in four of nine starts this year. He’s not very good.
Packers run offense (3rd) vs. Lions run defense (28th)
Here’s where the problems start. The Packers can actually run the ball pretty well, and it’s really the only thing that has kept Green Bay in football games while Hundley was flailing. In six of their past nine games, the Packers have outgained the defense’s yards per carry allowed average.
However, one of the biggest reasons for their success on the ground is rookie Aaron Jones, who hasn’t practiced this week and is unlikely to play. Jones averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his rookie year, while his replacement, rookie Jamaal Williams, is only averaging 3.6 YPC.
Still, the Packers have been relying more and more on Williams and they still rank very high among the entire NFL. They’re averaging 4.5 YPC (t-fourth) and earn first downs on 26.5 percent of runs (second). They’re living proof that with a good scheme and front five, they can succeed with any running back carrying the ball (sigh).
It seemed like the Lions run defense may have figured things out... then the worst (well... second worst) running team came out last Sunday and destroyed this defense. The Lions have now allowed five of the past seven opponents to outgain their average rushing yards per game average, while four of those seven topped their YPC average.
Detroit is allowing just 4.2 YPC (t-19th), but 26.2 percent of rushes against this defense end up earning first downs—the highest percentage of any team.
Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. The Lions run defense seems to live and die with the play of Jarrad Davis. He’s slowly improving, but when he makes a mistake, it tends to be devastating.
Advantage: Packers +2.5. The Lions haven’t dependably stopped the run since the last time they faced the Packers and although Green Bay is on their third-string running back, they’ve seemed to fare pretty well with anyone in the backfield.
Last week’s prediction:
In last week’s On Paper, I correctly predicted the score exactly. Only one problem: I gave the Lions 26 and the Bengals 17 instead of the other way around.
In the comment section, someone had the teams and scores exactly right. Congrats to Panzer1943 for your perfect prediction. Here is your prize.
You may be wondering... what the hell is all this crap? Well, today (Friday) is the 60th anniversary of the last Detroit Lions championship team. 1957.
Seeing as your username has “1943” in it, I’m going to guess that’s your birth year, and you’re probably familiar with some things from that era. So here is Lions 1957 running back Terry Barr carrying a brand new frisbee toy on the just-constructed Mackinac Bridge. The photo has held up incredibly well over 60 years, so congrats on the big win, Panzer.
This week’s prediction:
The Lions come out with a minor +1 advantage. When either team is passing the ball, it’s advantage: Lions. When it’s a running ballgame, the Packers hold the advantage.
If both teams were at full health—Rodgers included—I’m not sure these teams would match up well at all. But considering how depleated the Packers are on both sides of the ball, the Lions should be able to take this one—if they’re motivated to do so. Lions 27, Packers 17