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NFL Week 17 preview: Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers On Paper

It’s the season finale of On Paper?

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The end of the season is never fun. Detroit Lions games, as frustrating as they can be, are our lifeblood. We can pretend all we want that free agency and NFL Draft adequately fill the void, but in the end, a mock draft will never have the same thrill of Matthew Stafford taking the ball in his hands down four points with 1:43 remaining.

And worst of all, the offseason means no On Paper, and I know that’s what y’all really want. But don’t worry your little hearts. On Paper will be back for the Super Bowl. One last go-around before I pack these charts into my briefcase and try to find something else to do with my time.

Anyways, here’s my Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers preview that I’m sure y’all will either not read or skip to the bottom.

Lions pass offense (24th) vs. Packers pass defense (27th)

The Lions pass offense is bad. It’s bad because they traded Golden Tate (after the Seahawks game). It’s bad because Marvin Jones Jr. is on IR (since after the first Bears game). It’s bad because Jim Bob Cooter and Matthew Stafford.

But it’s easy to forget it wasn’t always that bad this season. Let’s take one final look at Matthew Stafford’s stats pre and post Tate trade:

Pre-Tate trade: 67.6% completion rate, 7.56 Y/A, 14 TDs, 6 INTs, 98.5 passer rating
Post-Tate trade: 65.2% completion rate, 5.9 Y/A, 5 TDs, 5 INTs, 79.5 passer rating

And since the Marvin Jones injury, look at the Lions’ passing stats (and rankings):

  • 78.3 passer rating (27th)
  • 64.2% completion rate (18th)
  • 1086 passing yard (26th)
  • 5.05 Y/A (27th)

They’re bad.

The Packers’ pass defense is similarly bad. Since their last matchup with the Lions, they’ve held just two opponents below a 95 passer rating, and for the season nine of 15 opponents have surpassed their passer rating averages.

Overall, Green Bay is 25th in passer rating allowed (99.6), t-21st in yards per attempt allowed (7.7) and 11th in completion percentage (63.8). They’re doing a solid job creating pressure (43 sacks, t-sixth), but they aren’t getting their hands on many passes (seven interceptions, 29th).

Player to watch: Kenny Golladay. The Lions have faced a lot of good pass defense lately. The Packers are not one of them. And with their best cornerback, Jaire Alexander, not likely to play, this should be a good opportunity for Golladay to have another big game. He’s had at least eight targets in six of his last seven, so expect him to see the ball early and often.

Advantage: Draw. I don’t know, man. This Lions offense has been absolutely terrible, but this Packers defense is probably the worst they’ve played since the last time the two faced off. I think Kenny could have a big game, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the receiving corps doing anything noteworthy.

Lions run offense (24th) vs. Packers run defense (22nd)

It doesn’t feel like the Lions running game has been that bad this season, but it actually kind of has. I think part of the mirage is just how bad the Lions’ running game was last year. I mean look at the comparison of raw statistics:

2017: 76.3 rushing yards per game, 3.4 Y/C, 16.0% of rushes earning first downs
2018: 102.0 rushing yards per game, 4.2 Y/C, 23.0% of rushes earning first downs

But rushing stats improved league-wide in 2018, and the Lions remain in the bottom half of the league. Certainly Kerryon Johnson’s injury against the Panthers hasn’t helped, but there is still another step this rushing attack needs to take.

The Packers’ run defense has seen its ups and downs. They’ve held seven of 15 opponents below their season average yards per carry, but only five below their yardage averages.

As a whole, they rank t-13th in yards per carry allowed (4.4) and 12th in percentage of rushes earning first downs allowed (22.8).

Let’s just save everyone’s time and call them average. However, it’s worth noting the Packers will be pretty shorthanded on the defensive front. With Muhammad Wilkerson and Mike Daniels already on IR, the Packers’ best run defender—Kenny Clark—was placed on IR this week (though he hasn’t played since Week 14).

Player to watch: Blake Martinez. It hasn’t been the breakout year for Martinez that many were expecting, but the young linebacker is still a solid run defender and is second on the team with 10 tackles for loss.

Advantage: Packers +1. I don’t expect the Lions to get completely shut down, but I don’t expect a huge day from the likes of Zach Zenner or LeGarrette Blount. Just a lot of 2-3 yard gains mixed with a TFL or an 8-yard run here and there.

Packers pass offense (9th) vs. Lions pass defense (32nd)

Aaron Rodgers has seen a lot of criticism come his way this season, but this year’s Packers passing chart doesn’t look much different than it usually does. And when you look at his overall stats, there’s really not that much of a statistical derivation from his averages.

2018 stats: 62.3% completion rate, 7.5 Y/A, 25 TDs, 2 INTs, 97.8 passer rating
Career average: 64.8% completion rate, 7.8 Y/A, 30 TDs, 7.2 INTs, 103.2 passer rating

There is a clear decline, but it’s not that significant, and when you consider his depleted receiving corps, it’s not all that surprising. No more Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb has only played in eight games, and Geronimo Allison played in five before being placed on IR. The only wide receiver with more than 40 catches this year is stud Davante Adams.

Though there was a brief moment in which it looked like the Lions pass defense may have found its footing, the unit remains a statistical nightmare. A lack of pass rush combined with an extremely thin secondary has proven to be a self-destructive combination.

Detroit now ranks 31st in passer rating allowed (107.5), t-last in yards per attempt (8.2), and 24th in completion percentage (66.7).

Player to watch: Davante Adams vs. Darius Slay. In the first matchup, Adams dominated—hauling in nine catches on 12 targets for 140 yards and a touchdown. But Slay is playing a lot better right now, and Adams is battling through a knee injury. There’s a chance he may not even play.

Advantage: Packers +3. I don’t care what week of the season it is: Aaron Rodgers against arguably the worst pass defense in the league is a nightmare matchup. This could get ugly.

Packers run offense (2nd) vs. Lions run defense (12nd)

If Packers management was asked why head coach Mike McCarthy was fired, all they would have to do is submit this chart. When you see the yards per carry column this green and the yardage column this red, all signs point to bad coaching.

The Packers have been a top five rushing attack in terms of efficiency: 2nd in DVOA, 2nd in yards per carry (5.1) and 1st in percentage of rushes earning first downs (29.7).

Yet they are DEAD LAST in rushing attempts. That’s borderline criminal behavior from McCarthy and the rest of the offensive coaching staff.

Obviously, the Packers rushing attack took a big hit when Aaron Jones went down with a season-ending injury against the Bears, but Jamaal Williams has filled in nicely.

This chart is literally mind-blowing. Damon Harrison Sr. is a cure to all run defense ails. Only the Rams have been able to find even a little success on the ground with Harrison in the lineup, and that includes some pretty solid rushing attacks.

The one difference this week is that the Lions are likely without their second best run defender: A’Shawn Robinson. That means we could see a lot of veteran Ricky Jean Francois and undrafted rookie John Atkins. That could be just the vulnerability the Packers are looking for.

Player to watch: Jarrad Davis. Please let good Jarrad show up one last time this year.

Advantage: Even. This is actually a pretty damn intriguing matchup for two teams playing for nothing on Sunday. This will be Detroit’s biggest test on the ground in a long time, and they’ll be without one of their best players. If the run defense can stand up this week, you should go into 2019 confident that this will be a top-five unit next season.

Last week’s prediction:

This team has become extremely predictable over the past month, and everyone got a layup win in our Staff Picks. On Paper deserves a little pat on the back for the pretty accurate 24-6 prediction, and now we’re a decent 9-6 on the year.

In the comment section, hopeful commenter IsTHIStheyearLions? nearly got a bingo. His 27-10 prediction was just a single point off of the 27-9 final score. Here is your prize, dear reader.

Yes, the clock is set 15 minutes forward, so that you aren’t actually late to whatever meetings you have.

This week’s prediction:

The Packers come out with a +4 advantage, but it’s hard to know exactly what to expect out of a game in which not everyone may be playing. To their credit, both teams seem to be treating this game like any other, but that may all change when the players take the field.

But here’s what I know: The Lions pass defense is a nightmare matchup against the Packers, even if they managed to do okay in the last matchup. The Lions offense is a complete mess and wouldn’t be able to keep up in a shootout. So I think #TeamTank gets their wish. Packers 31, Lions 13.

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