The Detroit Lions have been playing their best football in recent weeks and it has led them to their first winning streak in what feels like forever. They’re now 3-6, putting them right on the edge of the playoff picture, which is all you can really ask of this team in mid November. While the cards have played out in the Lions’ favor the past two weeks, it’ll be a tough task for that to continue as the Lions take on one of the league’s hottest teams in the New York Football Giants at Metlife Stadium Sunday.
Bold prediction of the week: Saquon Barkley rushes for <70 yards against the Lions
The Lions’ lucky streak has been propelled by their defense, so we’re sticking with them this week. Saquon is squarely in contention for Comeback Player of the Year, finally looking like the man the Giants drafted out of Penn State. Through nine games, Barkley has posted 931 rushing yards and 197 receiving yards.
He hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency, though. In the four games Barkley has eclipsed 100 rushing yards, he’s averaging a shade over 143 yards per game. In his remaining games, He’s averaging half that mark, at just under 72 yards per game. His season has been the epitome of his or miss.
What’s even more intriguing is the pattern of when these games take place—Barkley seems to encounter some sort of a hangover after his big performances. In the games following Barkley’s 100-plus yard rushing performances, he has rushed for 72 yards, 70 yards, and 52 yards. His fourth 100-plus yard rushing performance was last week, putting the Lions in good company entering Sunday’s matchup.
To make matters worse for the Giants, their offensive line is facing multiple question marks entering the weekend. Star right tackle Evan Neal is doubtful for Sunday’s game with a knee injury, and starting left guard Joshua Ezeudu injured his neck in practice Wednesday, keeping him from practice Thursday and leaving his status Sunday up in the air.
It’s all shaping up to be the perfect storm for the Lions defense on the ground Sunday. However, it won’t magically happen. It remains a tall task for a team that has spent much of the season so far as the league’s worst rushing defense. To make matters worse, the Lions will be without Josh Paschal, one of their largest defensive lineman and a guy whose return from injury just happened to coincide with the defensive turnaround.
What they do have going for them though is sophomore Derrick Barnes playing his best football over the past two weeks. The thick, thumping, downhill linebacker will need to be exactly that Sunday to fill the gaps in the Giants’ backfield if this team wants to shut down Saquon.
Things really could go either way Sunday, with a stoppable force set to meet a movable object. If the Lions defense plays with gap discipline and gets run support from the secondary, they may be able to continue Barkley’s pattern of big game hangovers and hold him to what would be his second-lowest rushing total of the season. If they regress to the team we saw through the first two months of the season though, it could be a long day.