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Detroit Lions vs. Denver Broncos preview, prediction: On Paper

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Our statistical breakdown of the Lions’ Week 16 game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For the last time this year, the Detroit Lions will head out on the road. This will only be the third time all season they’ll be playing west of Minnesota. Denver is never an easy place to play because of the altitude, but the Lions will be catching a break with warmer-than-usual temperatures in December.

That being said, the Lions are riding a seven-game losing streak while the Broncos have won two of their last three. Will these trends continue? Let’s check out the teams... On Paper.

Lions pass offense (13th) vs. Broncos pass defense (14th)

This chart pretty much tells you all you need to know about the value of Matthew Stafford. His last game was against the Raiders, and it’s been as close to a disaster since. When Stafford left the lineup, the Lions had the fifth overall DVOA ranking in passing offense. In just six games, David Blough and Jeff Driskel managed to sink that number to 13th.

David Blough has arguably been the worst quarterback in the league over the past two weeks, completing just 57.8 percent of his passes for one touchdown, three interceptions and a passer rating of 57.6. The only quarterback who may have been worse in the past two games was Andy Dalton on the one-win Bengals.

And in the past two weeks, the Lions have sent wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. and starting left guard Joe Dahl (and his backup Kenny Wiggins) to injured reserve.

In other words, things have not been pretty here.

The Broncos pass defense hasn’t been anything to boast about, especially as of late. They’ve only held one of their past six opponents below their passer rating average and just two of six below their weekly passing yard average.

Currently the Broncos rank 15th in passer rating allowed (89.6), 13th in yards per attempt (7.1) and 26th in completion percentage (65.7). Despite some solid pass rushers, the Broncos only have 34 sacks on the year (t-18th). Their pass rush win rate is even worse, ranking 30th in the NFL. And even with one of the best corners in the game, they only have 10 interceptions (t-18th).

Player to watch: Jesse James. Hey, stop laughing. The Broncos have struggled to defend against tight ends for years, and with T.J. Hockenson out, Blough is starting to look James’ way more often. Last week, James saw a season-high five targets.

Advantage: Draw. Though Blough has struggled in the past two weeks, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has dug the offense out of bigger holes before, giving me a tiny bit of confidence Detroit could win this matchup. The Broncos defense should be better than it is, but it’s trending in the wrong direction. Still, with Blough back there, I can’t give any team an advantage with confidence.

Lions run offense (27th) vs. Broncos run defense (17th)

The Lions’ run game resurgence has been stymied by injuries and strong run defenses in the past two weeks. With offensive linemen and running backs heading in and out of the lineup, the Lions haven’t been able to get anything going on the ground.

That being said, things could certainly change this week. At this point, Kerryon Johnson is expected to make his return this week from IR, and he’ll be extremely motivated to prove he can still ball after injuries derailed the first two years of his NFL career.

Like their pass defense, the Broncos run defense is currently trending in the wrong direction, allowing over 100 yards rushing and at least 4.0 yards per carry in each of their last three games. In fact, Since Week 13, the Broncos rank 20th in yards per carry allowed (4.49).

But let’s not ignore their impressive start to the season. This was a borderline elite run defense in the first two months of the season, with a couple of big slip ups early in the year.

Put it all together, and the Broncos rank 15th in yards per carry allowed (4.2) and 15th in percentage of rushes allowed that earned first downs (23.2). In other words, they’re average, but trending down.

Player to watch: Kerryon Johnson. Johnson was having a poor season before the injury bug hit, but it seems like the offensive line has been blocking better as of late, even with the injuries. Can Johnson take advantage?

Advantage: Broncos +1. Despite recent trends, the Broncos have been consistently good in this category. The addition of Kerryon gives the Lions a big-play threat, but he needs to show he’s still capable of it, because he was not good earlier in the year.

Broncos pass offense (27th) vs. Lions pass defense (29th)

The Broncos pass offense started out fairly average with Joe Flacco, but after he went down with an injury against the Broncos, it’s kind of been a nightmare.

Drew Lock is 2-1 as a starter, but wins are not a quarterback stat. Here are actual quarterback stats for the rookie quarterback and where that ranks over the past three weeks.

Passer rating: 85.9 (21st)
Yards per attempt: 6.85 (18th)
Completion percentage: 61.05% (21st)

He hasn’t been horrible, but he’s still very much a below average passer, which is to be expected of a second-round rookie.

The Broncos receiving corps isn’t all that scary, as they traded away Emmanuel Sanders midseason. Courtland Sutton is really their only major threat; their next best weapon, rookie tight end Noah Fant, is currently battling a shoulder injury.

Yep, still very, very bad

Player to watch: Trey Flowers. The Broncos pass protection has been pretty awful (28th in pass block win rate). While the Lions can’t seem to rush the passer, Flowers is the one guy who has consistently created pressure.

Advantage: Broncos +1. Sorry, the Lions pass defense is way too bad for me to believe they can stop anyone—including a rookie quarterback. They did hold Dwayne Haskins to a horrible day, but Lock has already proven to be a much bigger threat than Haskins.

Broncos run offense (19th) vs. Lions run defense (14th)

Denver’s rushing attack has been even worse than their passing attack, despite what the DVOA rankings will tell you. They’ve only rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry twice in the past nine weeks and haven’t rushed for over 100 yards in a month.

Overall, Denver ranks just t-20th in yards per carry (4.1) and 29th in percentage of rushes that earn first downs (19.2).

Phillip Lindsay has had a productive year (849 yards, 4.5 YPC), but splitting carries with bulky-back Royce Freeman (472 yards, 3.9 YPC) hasn’t helped his case.

The Lions run defense is starting to reach level it achieved last year. Since Week 10, the Lions are first in yards per carry allowed (3.06) and second in rushing yards per game allowed (83.2).

Player to watch: Frank Herron. Snacks is back to his dominant self, but he can’t be out there every play. A’Shawn Robinson looks to be trending towards sitting this week, which means it could be Frank Herron’s second consecutive game with a ton of snaps. Last week, he turned 43 snaps into three tackles—a modest Lions debut.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. Detroit has the clear advantage here, but they’ve also got a ton of injuries that could hurt them this week. No A’Shawn, no Devon Kennard, no Jarrad Davis, no Mike Daniels. As a result, Detroit is going to play a bunch of unknown commodities in the middle of their defense. Plus, Phillip Lindsay’s speed is scary.

Last week’s prediction:

Last week, I damn near won the On Paper challenge with my impressive 34-20 prediction (the final score was 38-17).

However, the comment section was on fire. There were plenty of close predictions, but none were closer than the very last comment we got: Devil Barrel’s 38-16 prediction. He swung and missed on his prediction that the only Lions TD would be a Danny Amendola punt return, but Amendola did pop off in the game, so half credit there, too.

This is the second time Devil Barrel has won the On Paper challenge this year, you two-timing son of a bitch. Here’s your prize.

Yes, I made another photoshopped image devoted to your username, but it’s too good. I love it.

This week’s prediction:

The Broncos come out with just a +0.5 advantage. I could truly see this game going either way. I think the Broncos are worse than people believe, especially after winning two of their last three games—even if those wins came over the Texans and Chargers.

But, ultimately, there’s one thing I have near 100 percent confidence in: the Lions pass defense will be horrible. And since there are a bunch of other factors in this game I can’t be too sure about, may as well hang all my predictions on that one sure-to-be fact. Broncos 24, Lions 17.