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NFL Week 16 preview, prediction: Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, On Paper

A holiday preview and prediction for the Lions’ Week 16 game.

NFL: DEC 15 Buccaneers at Lions Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of our Lions fam. Hope you are able to spend some time with some loved ones, either in person or virtually. If you have to work today or can’t be with family or friends, I’ve been there. It gets better, I promise.

Anyways, with the Detroit Lions out of the playoffs, it being a holiday, and this game being almost impossible to predict due to the Lions missing half of their coaching staff, we’re going to keep this week’s On Paper prediction a bit brief.

Lions pass offense (14th in DVOA) vs. Bucs pass defense (7th)

Matthew Stafford—rib cartilage damage be damned—is playing some pretty darn good football in the past three weeks. Here’s a comparison to pre- and post-Matt Patricia Matthew Stafford:

With Patricia in 2020: 63.2 completion percentage, 7.45 Y/A, 92.7 passer rating
Without Patricia: 67.6 completion percentage, 8.31 Y/A, 104.6 passer rating

Detroit’s health on the offensive line will be key in this game, and it appears everyone is trending in the right direction to play on Saturday.

The Bucs pass defense has not been particularly good as of late. They give up yards in bunches and all but one quarterback met or surpassed their passer rating average in the past two months.

Worse yet for the Bucs, their best cornerback Carlton Davis is doubtful to play with a groin injury.

But that Bucs pass rush is something to be feared. They rank sixth in pass rush win rate and fifth in overall sacks.

Player to watch: Jason Pierre-Paul. 9.5 sacks. ‘Nuff said.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. Detroit has been playing pretty darn well on since Bevell has taken over, but Bevell won’t be there on Saturday. So who the hell knows?

Lions run offense (23rd) vs. Bucs run defense (1st)

The Lions running game has some life with D’Andre Swift in the lineup. He’s had 10 rushes in four different games this year: against the Jaguars, Vikings, Football Team and the Titans. Now look at the charts of those corresponding games. Yeah, not a coincidence.

Overall, it’s still just an okay rushing game, but it’s obvious that more Swift = more success.

I don’t think I need to convince you this is a good run defense. Sure, they were better with a healthy Vita Vea, but there hasn’t been a single team that has outgained their yards per carry average against the Bucs. That number is 3.9 yards per carry for the Lions. You do the math.

Player to watch: Frank Ragnow. The Lions’ Pro Bowl center returned to practice after suffering a fractured throat. If he can play, the Lions may have a shot in this matchup, but it’ll still be an uphill climb.

Advantage: Bucs +2. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Lions have a little bit success here, but over 100 yards would be an absolute mind-blowing performance. Detroit just hasn’t been consistent enough with or without Swift.

Bucs pass offense (6th) vs. Lions pass defense (31st)

The national perception seems to believe this is a down year for Tom Brady. If this is a down year, I’ll take down years 10 out of 10 times. Sure, there has been some inconsistencies and some uncharacteristic games from Brady, but this is still a pretty clean chart.

I suppose this is where the “Brady is washed” narrative:

  • Passer rating: 97.5 (14th)
  • Yards per attempt: 7.2 (22nd)
  • Completion percentage: 65.1 (22nd)

But come on, y’all. You don’t believe Brady is actually washed, and when taking into account strength of opponent—as the charts do—it’s pretty clear he is not.

The Lions pass defense is still bad. Let’s move on.

Player to watch: Mike Evans. Last three games from Mike Evans: 216 yards, 2 TDs.

Advantage: Bucs +3. The Lions don’t have a defensive coaching staff. They don’t have any healthy cornerbacks. They don’t have any healthy defensive linemen. And their linebackers... are their linebackers. And their best one—Jamie Collins Sr.—may not play.

Bucs run offense (10th) vs. Lions run defense (28th)

The charts don’t match up with the DVOA ranking at all, and I’m really not sure why Football Outsider loves this running game. They’ve surpassed 100 rushing yards just twice in the last eight games, and they’re averaging just 4.1 yards per carry.

Most of the success has come from Ronald Jones II, but the top running back (averaging 5.0 YPC) is out this week. Leonard Fournette will take over, but the back is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.

The Lions run defense has been better than you think, but I would stop far short of calling them good. The chart is in their favor a bit because teams are running out the clock on them late with obvious rushing plays, likely lowering their YPC for the day.

Still, they’re capable of a good performance here and there, and if they activate Danny Shelton from IR on Friday, I think they could actually win this matchup. However, if Jamie Collins doesn’t play, that could be a bigger blow.

Player to watch: Ali Marpet. The Bucs’ left guard is one of the best in the league. He’s current PFF’s sixth-rated guard, and his run blocking grade of 81.9 is fifth-best in the NFL.

Advantage: Bucs +1. Injuries will play a huge part in this matchup. I think the Lions will keep Tampa mostly in check during this game, but no Collins would be a disaster waiting to happen.

Last week’s prediction:

I have no issues with my prediction last week. My final prediction of 35-20 was a bit optimistic looking back, but if the Lions hadn’t turned the ball over early in that game, it could’ve looked a lot different. In fact, I would say I underestimated the Lions in the running offense matchup (+1 Titans). Though I probably overestimated them in run defense (+2 Titans).

In the comment section, again the winning prediction came from the staff. Mike Payton came away with his second win of the season with a depressing, yet accurate 42-20 prediction. Here’s what he requested his prize be:

I’d like $50,000 in unmarked bills in a brown paper bag. Small denominations.

I think he is very confused about how well-paying my job is. Here’s the best I could do:

This week’s prediction:

The Bucs have a +4.5 advantage, but I view this as a matchup within grasp for the Lions. They won’t stop Brady, but they certainly have a shot for some success on offense, and I believe they could realistically stop Leonard Fournette.

That being said, I literally have no idea what to expect of this ridiculous coaching situation, so there’s no way I’m predicting an upset this week. Bucs 38, Lions 27