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Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants Week 8 preview, prediction: On Paper

A statistical breakdown of Sunday’s Lions-Giants matchup.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions and New York Giants are both riding three-game losing streaks into Week 8. For the Giants, it’s not all that much of a surprise. Given how much talent they’ve unloaded in the last year, it’s clear they are in rebuilding mode.

As for the Lions, they had plenty of doubters nationally, but locally, there was a strong belief (and strong evidence) that they’d be better this year. A 2-0-1 start seemed to corroborate that, but after dropping three straight, the optimism is gone, and the season is already on life support before the halfway point in the year.

So which team will rebound and give their fan base some (likely temporary) optimism going forward? Let’s take a closer look at the matchup On Paper.

Lions pass offense (4th) vs. Giants pass defense (27th)

The Lions pass offense continues to look among the league’s best. Last week, Detroit dominated a legitimately good Vikings pass defense and made them look ordinary... or even worse.

Matthew Stafford is currently on pace for a record year, averaging a career-high in yards per attempt (8.0) and passer rating (101.7). His interception rate (1.4) is also at a career low for a full season, while his touchdown percentage is its highest since 2011—arguably his best statistical output in his career.

As for how Detroit’s passing game compares to the rest of the league, Detroit is eighth in passer rating (101.7), eighth in yards per attempt (8.0) and 21st in completion percentage (62.1). Detroit is hitting on the long ball quite effectively with 28 passing plays of 20+ yards (t-seventh) and four of 40+ yards (t-14th).

Pass protection has been average for Detroit, but thanks to a healthy dose of play action, Stafford has only been sacked 12 times through six games (t-eighth fewest).

As their DVOA ranking suggests, the Giants pass defense is really bad. They’ve been better as of late, but better is a relative term. Good quarterbacks have absolutely destroyed this team, and they’ve allowed a passer rating of 100+ in four of seven games this year. The only real reason it appears they held Tom Brady in check is because it was an ugly, windy game that night, and Brady still threw for over 300 yards.

Defensively, the Giants rank 23rd in passer rating allowed (100.6), t-30th in yards per attempt (8.9), and 25th in completion percentage (69.0).

And you know how the Lions can connect on the deep ball? Well, the Giants can’t stop it. They’ve allowed 30 plays of 20+ yards (31st) and seven of 40+ yards (t-27th).

Start licking your chops, Matthew.

Player to watch: Kenny Golladay. Last week it was the Marvin Jones Jr. show against the Vikings. This week, I expect Golladay to take the reigns of the offense. The two are nearly identical in stats through six games, though.

Jones: 30 catches, 387 yards, 5 TDs
Golladay: 25 catches, 385 yards, 4 TDs

Advantage: Lions +3. It’s hard to look at this matchup and expect anything other than domination from Detroit. The Giants’ pass rush isn’t particularly threatening, which is really the only equalizer against this offense right now. Their secondary is full of young, raw players, while the Lions are firing on all cylinders.

Lions run offense (27th) vs. Giants run defense (14th)

With no Kerryon Johnson for the next eight weeks, it’s hard to see how the Lions turn things around this year after an ineffective start for their running game. They’ve only rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry twice this season, and one was just for 81 total yards. For whatever reason, this team cannot seem to get themselves a rushing attack no matter how hard they try.

They’re currently averaging just 3.8 yards per carry (t-21st) and are earning first downs on just 17.2 percent of carries (29th). At first, it seemed like maybe there was some hope after curious DVOA rankings, but that hope is now gone. Detroit is suffering through yet another season of poor running, and I don’t see them pulling out of it this year.

One of the few things the Giants do well is defend the run. They aren’t spectacular at it: they’ve still allowed over 4.0 yards per carry in four of seven games, and they certainly cede a lot of yards. But those numbers are highly impacted by the fact that New York is always trailing in games. They’ve faced the third most rushing attempts in the league, so it would make sense that they’ve also given up the sixth most yardage on the ground.

In terms of efficiency stats, the Giants are allowing 4.2 yards per carry (t-15th) and let 19.2 percent of rushes earn first downs (seventh).

They’re not fantastic, but they’re good in this department.

Player to watch: DT Dexter Lawrence. One of the Giants’ three first-round rookies, Lawrence has been a huge run-stuffing force in the middle of New York’s defense. Lawrence has the 11th-highest PFF run defense grade in the league (82.6), but he’ll be going up against the best run-blocking center in the league: Frank Ragnow.

Advantage: Giants +1. The lack of a running game hasn’t really slowed the Lions offensive much this year, so I’m not giving the advantage much weight. That being said, with a better running game, the Lions may have been able to close out some of their earlier opponents instead of blowing fourth-quarter leads. So this matchup could certainly affect Sunday’s outcome if Detroit finds themselves holding onto a slight lead late.

Giants pass offense (29th) vs. Lions pass defense (15th)

Daniel Jones took over for Eli Manning in Week 3 and his hype lasted exactly two weeks. After a phenomenal comeback against the Buccaneers and a solid performance against Washington, Danny Dimes faced some real pass defenses and the results have been ugly. Just look at the splits:

Daniel Jones first 2 starts: 46-of-67 (68.7%), 561 yards (8.4 Y/A), 3 TDs, 2 INTs, 96.7 passer rating
Daniel Jones last 3 starts: 58-of-104 (55.8%), 566 yards, (5.4 Y/A), 3 TDs, 5 INTs, 60.8 passer rating

Jones currently has the sixth-worst passer rating in the league (75.0), has the fifth-lowest yards per attempt (6.5), and has thrown more interceptions than all but four quarterbacks in this league despite only starting five of seven games this year.

Of course, he’s a rookie and that is all to be expected. It doesn’t do him any favors that his offensive line is not very good—Jones was sacked eight times last week against the Cardinals.

The Lions pass defense took a huge hit last week, and it’s unclear exactly why. Part of it likely has to do with the inability to stop the run, but that wasn’t exactly unique to last week.

Regardless, there’s reason to believe, at this point, that Sunday’s game against the Vikings was an outlier. Prior to that, they had held four of their previous five opponents well below their passer rating average. They entered the Vikings game as one of the league leaders in passes defended, yet they didn’t get their hands on a single ball on Sunday.

Interestingly enough, Detroit doesn’t rank all that highly in raw statistics anymore. They’re 17th in passer rating allowed (90.5), third in completion percentage (58.5) and t-17th in yards per attempt (7.5). Part of the issue right now is simply allowing too many big plays. Having played fewer games than a lot of teams, the Lions have still allowed the eighth-most passing plays of 20+ yards (27) and the seventh-most plays of 40+ yards (seven).

They also continue to be without a pass rush, with the lowest pass rush win rate in the league and the fifth-fewest sacks (10).

Player to watch: Evan Engram. The Lions haven’t done a great job in covering tight ends this year, and with their shuffling of safeties this week after trading starter Quandre Diggs, it will be interesting to see how they handle one of the most athletic tight ends the league has to offer. Engram has run very hot or cold throughout his career, but this could be a big one for him.

Advantage: Lions +1. Even if the Lions are without Darius Slay this week, it looks like New York could be without their top receiver in Sterling Shepard. That leaves New York extremely thin at wide receiver, and Detroit’s secondary should be good enough to handle them. The question is whether they’ll be able to make Daniel Jones uncomfortable with some pressure, and the past six games suggest the answer to that question is no. Jones has some excellent deep-ball accuracy, and that’s why I’m only giving Detroit a +1 advantage against a struggling rookie quarterback with limited weapons.

Giants run offense (8th) vs. Lions run defense (21st)

The Giants rushing attack took an obvious nosedive when Saquon Barkley missed games against Washington, Minnesota and New England. However, with Barkley returning last week, so did New York’s rushing attack. Fighting through an ankle sprain, Barkley wasn’t at his most effective last week, rushing for just 72 yards on 18 carries (4.0 YPC), but it also allowed Jones to be effective as a rushing quarterback (four carries, 35 yards).

Though New York doesn’t possess a strong offensive line, Barkley is still one of the most efficient backs in the league. He’s fifth in the league in yards per carry (5.6), and as a team, the Giants are earning first downs on 26.4 percent of carries (fifth).

The Lions run defense is still bad. Damon Harrison Sr. is still searching for answers. And the Lions’ linebacker play is still atrocious.

There could be some light at the end of the tunnel with Da’Shawn Hand potentially returning this week, giving the Lions more versatility up front, but until I see some actual results, I’m not giving this defense the benefit of the doubt.

Detroit is allowing 4.9 yards per carry (t-26th), but first downs on just 21.9 percent of carries (14th).

Player to watch: Barkley. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what the other 21 players on the field are doing. Sometime a player’s talent is just that transcendent. Barkley may be one of those guys.

Advantage: Giants +2. One thing On Paper has never been able to account for is the interplay of these four matchups. How you perform in one matchup inevitably impacts how you play in another. For example, if the Lions were able to shut down Daniel Jones with limited resources on the back end, they could devote more to the front seven and, ideally, improve their run defense.

That’s the strategy the Lions used against the Vikings, but Kirk Cousins made them pay. I don’t think Daniel Jones is capable of that kind of beatdown, but the stats are the stats here. The Lions don’t appear capable of stopping a running game and they’re facing one of the league’s best running backs this week. You do the math.

Last week’s prediction:

On Paper predicted a two score loss and that’s exactly what we got. However, I miscalculated on a couple things: most notably, the passing offenses. I though the Vikings had Matthew Stafford’s number. They didn’t. I thought the Lions defensive backs could give Kirk Cousins some trouble. They didn’t. So my 27-13 final score prediction wasn’t all that close to the 42-30 shootout that we got.

Of course, just about everyone else felt the same way, too. No one came even close to the final score, but I guess the closest one was Snow_Lion and their depressing 45-16 prediction.

Here is your prize for your unparalleled pessimism:

This week’s prediction:

The Lions come out with a mere +1 advantage. The Giants hold the advantage in the trenches when it comes to the running game, but the Lions hold the aerial attack edge. If you’re of the Matt Patricia philosophy, that’s very bad news for Detroit. If you’re of the belief that the passing game reigns supreme in today’s NFL, then the edge clearly goes to the Lions this week.

I’m somewhere in the middle. Detroit needs to stop the bleeding on the ground on both sides of the ball, but there are little signs of optimism they will. That being said, they’ve held some pretty good quarterbacks in check this year and given themselves a chance to win games against teams that were probably better than them.

Ultimately, I have to take the Lions here, but this is a game that will probably be decided late. Lions 30, Giants 27.

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