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Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers preview, prediction: On Paper

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A statistical breakdown of the Lions’ Week 14 matchup.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions (3-8-1) only have three games left. Many fans are hoping the team just loses out for the optimal draft position, others are looking for something—anything—to bring forward a sense of optimism going into 2020 and beyond.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) have just as curious of a future ahead of them. Many wonder if Jameis Winston is long for the roster, but, at least in the immediate, the team is currently riding a three-game win streak and Bruce Arians appears to have the franchise headed in the right direction.

So who has the edge in this game that will only affect draft order? Let’s take a look.

Lions pass offense (12th in DVOA) vs. Bucs pass defense (19th)

Hey, so it turns out that Matthew Stafford guy is pretty good. Since his injury following the Raiders game, the Lions passing game has been not-so-good. Here’s their rankings and averages since that game:

Passer rating: 74.7 (28th)
Completion percentage: 59.0 (25th)
Yards per play: 4.8 (25th)

Both Jeff Driskel and David Blough had promising games, but followed them up with stinkers. Being a good quarterback once is much, much easier than being a good quarterback consistently.

And now, the Lions will be without Marvin Jones Jr. for the final three games, which isn’t great news for Blough, who is expected to make his third career start this week. And their offensive line will probably be missing two starters in right tackle Rick Wagner and left guard Joe Dahl. Joy to the world.

The Bucs pass defense has been very up and down all year. Seven of their 13 opponents were able to significantly outgain their season passer rating average against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs also held six opponents at or below their averages.

The reason for their inconsistencies really come down to their personnel. They’re a team that’s very good in the front seven (third in pass rush win rate), but really struggles on the back end. That being said, they do rank first in the league in passes defended.

Player to watch: Shaquil Barrett. The NFL’s league-leader in sacks could be a handful for the Lions on Sunday. While Lions left tackle Taylor Decker has been playing out of his mind in the past five or six games, he’ll likely be playing with a new player to his right. Even with the guard rotation all year, it could be a different feel for him, and that could be all that Barrett needs to take advantage. The Bucs defensive end not only has 15.5 sacks on the year, but he’s only been kept off the sack scoreboard twice all season.

Advantage: Bucs +2. We saw last year what this Lions pass offense looked like once their star playmakers were gone, and that was with Matthew Stafford at the helm. The shine has worn off of Blough, and the Bucs’ defensive front is primed to dominate a beat-up Lions offensive line.

Lions run offense (28th) vs. Bucs run defense (1st)

Last week was a step back for the Lions’ running game resurgence, but it’s still pretty clear they’ve been better recently than how they started the season. Since Week 10, the Lions are 15th in the league in yards per carry (4.18) and ninth in overall rushing yards (569).

However, Bo Scarbrough is trending towards not playing this week, meaning Detroit may have to rely on either rookie Ty Johnson (3.4 YPC) or J.D. McKissic (only 37 carries, but 5.5 YPC) to carry the load. And there is that aforementioned beat-up offensive line.

Uh oh.

The Bucs have the best run defense in the league, and it’s pretty easy to see why when you look at their roster. William Gholston, Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, and Lavonte David: all are supreme forces and matchup nightmares.

But let’s drive the point home with some stats. The Bucs are second in yards per carry allowed (3.4), fourth in percentage of rushes earning first downs (19.1), second in run stuff percentage and eighth in power run situations.

Player to watch: Lavonte David. The Bucs’ middle linebacker has been an absolute beast this year. He has 9.5 tackles for loss—and only one of those tackles was a sack.

Advantage: Bucs +2. This would be a closer matchup if the Lions weren’t so injured, but the Buccaneers are exactly the kind of team that can take advantage of this weakened squad.

Bucs pass offense (18th) vs. Lions pass defense (25th)

This chart is Jameis Winston. You’re either going to get an A+ out of him or a complete and utter disaster. 26 passing touchdowns for the Bucs (t-second most), 23 interceptions (most).

The one consistent is a load of yards, and that’s mostly a result of the Buccaneers throwing it a million times a game. Their 516 pass attempts (39.7 per game) rank third in the NFL.

Overall, Winston ranks 25th in passer rating (84.9), eighth in yards per attempt (8.0) and 29th in completion percentage (61.3). Again, he’s all over the place.

And we’ll have to see what Winston can do without one of his best receivers, as Mike Evans is likely out of the year. He still has Chris Godwin, but no other wide receiver on the team has more than 300 receiving yards.

Yep, still bad.

Player to watch: Darius Slay vs. Chris Godwin. Slay has been tested this year with some of the best receivers in the league, and while his performance has been better than many are leading on, he certainly hasn’t shut down players like he has in the past. This should be a fascinating matchup between a rising stud at receiver vs. an All Pro cornerback who has shown signs of waning.

Advantage: Bucs +1. I don’t know which Winston we’re going to get this week, which makes it impossible for me to give an advantage here with any sort of confidence. That being said, the Lions’ pass defense has been so bad, I can’t in good faith give them an advantage or even a draw here.

Bucs run offense (23nd) vs. Lions run defense (18th)

The Bucs have only rushed for 100 yards once in the past four weeks, and have been held below 4.0 yards per carry in eight of 13 games this season. The duo of Ronald Jones II (3.8 YPC) and Peyton Barber (3.2 YPC) has been underwhelming, to say the least.

WE DID IT!

We found the one unit of this team that has actually shown signs of growth and improvement and may actually be considered GOOD right now. No team has rushed for over 4.0 YPC since Stafford got injured and last week was the first time a team eclipsed 100 yards, but it took the Vikings 39 attempts to get there.

Since Week 10, the Lions are fourth in YPC allowed (3.36).

Player to watch: Tavon Wilson. For everything that has gone wrong on defense this season, Wilson has probably been one of the more underappreciated players on the team. The safety loves to come down into the box and is one of the team’s best run defenders.

Advantage: Lions +1. It will be interesting to see how the Lions fare without Jarrad Davis, assuming the middle linebacker doesn’t rebound from his ankle injury this week. Jahlani Tavai has had an up-and-down rookie season, but the experience should do him well. Still, Detroit should be well equipped to handle a subpar rushing attack.

Last week’s prediction:

Last week, I got the winner right and my margin of victory (11) was pretty close to the final one (13). However, the game was much lower scoring than expected. The Lions defense outperformed my expectations, while the Lions offense was much worse than expected.

In the comment section, our resident curmudgeon—term of endearment, I promise—Singledigit pulled his first victory of the season with a solid 28-3 final score prediction. And, how appropriate! You won when the Lions scored in the... single digits!

This week’s prediction:

The Bucs come out with a pretty significant +4 advantage. Interestingly enough, I have the defenses edging out the offenses in three of the four matchups. That suggests this could be a low-scoring game, which explains Vegas setting the over/under at just 46 points.

However, I think the Bucs are going to try to air it out, which either means there’s going to be a lot of passing touchdowns or a lot of turnovers. There is no in between with Jameis Winston. So I actually think it will be fairly high scoring. Lions 20, Buccaneers 34.