When the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers first met back in Week 9, neither fanbase was feeling particularly good about where they were at. The Lions were 1-6 and fan confidence was at 56 percent. The Packers were 3-5 and fan confidence was all the way down to 12 percent.
It’s two months later, and both teams are facing off with a potential playoff spot on the line. The Lions have since gone 7-2, the Packers have since gone 5-3, and you could make a solid argument that over that time, the Packers and the Lions have been two of the best teams in the entire NFL.
How the heck did we get here? What has changed?
Let’s take a look at the biggest differences between the Week 9 Lions and Packers and the Week 18 Lions and Packers.
In their first matchup, the Lions were hurting, most notably, at their skill positions. They did not have DJ Chark, Jameson Williams, or Josh Reynolds, and D’Andre Swift was only able to play on 10 snaps. While the Packers defense deserves some credit for their performance, the absence of those players likely played a huge factor in what was arguably Jared Goff’s least efficient game of the season.
- 137 passing yards (season low)
- 5.3 yards per attempt (season low)
- 53.9 completion percentage (season low)
- 78.6 passer rating (third lowest)
The Lions receivers in that game—Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, and Tom Kennedy—combined for eight catches and 88 yards.
The offensive line was intact and the same as we should expect for this Sunday, although Taylor Decker was questionable for the game with a groin injury—he would end up playing all 62 snaps.
On defense, they were a tad healthier, with both Julian Okwara and Charles Harris in the lineup, although the two combined for just 36 snaps. That said, we had not seen James Houston on the field—and the rookie defensive end now has 8.0 sacks in his first six games. Romeo Okwara has since returned, but, obviously, Harris and Julian Okwara are now out.
There are no significant changes to their secondary from the first matchup.
Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari played in about half of the snaps in the previous matchup. It’s unclear if he’ll play this week, but he returned for his first game in about a month against the Vikings on Sunday and played in 89 percent of the snaps.
Their receiving corps is probably the most changed from last time. While Allen Lazard played in the last matchup, it was his first game back from injury. He did have a solid game, catching four passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
But rookie Christian Watson hadn’t become a “thing” yet. He played in just 17 snaps against the Lions and had two catches for 24 yards. By the end of Week 9, Watson had just 10 catches for 88 yards and zero touchdowns on the season.
In the seven games since the Lions’ matchup, Watson has 26 catches, 419 yards, and seven touchdowns, though his productivity has slowed a bit as of late. He’s been held out of the end zone and below 50 receiving yards in each of the past three weeks.
Defensively, the Packers will be without Rashan Gary, who suffered a season-ending injury in Detroit the first time around. However, they should have linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who missed the previous matchup. Rotational linebacker Justin Hollands has since been added to the Packers’ roster, and he has 2.5 sacks and nine pressures in five games with Green Bay.
Both teams are undeniably better than they were back in early November. The Lions are 6-2 since that game, while the Packers are 5-2. But how much better is each team playing? And where have they improved? Let’s look at some DVOA (efficiency) numbers from before and after the matchup.
- 25th in overall DVOA
- 11th in offensive DVOA (17th in pass offense, 4th in run offense)
- 32nd in defensive DVOA (32nd in pass defense, 30th in run defense)
- 4th in overall DVOA
- 3rd in offensive DVOA (3rd in pass offense, 21st in run offense
- 22nd in defensive DVOA (22nd in pass defense, 23rd in run defense)
The Lions have exploded in the past two months, going from a bottom-eight team in the NFL to a top-five one. At the heart of that explosion is their passing offense, which has seen incredible growth since November. That said, the Lions are playing much more sound defense, as well. They’re still a below-average unit—and there are some very concerning data points in the Panthers, Jets, and Vikings games—but this is a team that is starting to make plays on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s all about disruption numbers in the passing game:
Weeks 1-8: 11 sacks, 2 interceptions
Weeks 10-17: 25 sacks, 6 interceptions
The run defense has improved, too, but it’s hard to find meaningful numbers there outside of DVOA.
Green Bay Packers
- 14th in overall DVOA
- 7th in offensive DVOA (12th in pass offense, 7th in run offense)
- 20th in defensive DVOA (6th in pass defense, 31st in run defense)
- 6th in overall DVOA
- 6th in offensive DVOA (9th in pass offense, 3rd in run offense)
- 16th in defensive DVOA (7th in pass defense, 27th in run defense)
Like the Lions, much of their improvement has taken place on the offensive side of the ball. While they were already playing at a pretty high level, they’ve improved in both passing and running the ball, however, their rushing attack has been near-elite.
Defensively, they’re pretty much the same team they have been. Their run defense remains bad, but it has improved a little. In the previous matchup, the Lions rushed for 117 yards on just 31 carries (3.8 YPC).
To further drive the point home, here’s a look at the EPA (expected points added) splits before and after the last matchup:
- 20th in offense (20th in pass, 13th in run)
- 32nd in defense (32nd in pass, 29th in run)
- 1st in offense (1st in pass, 19th in run)
- 26th in defense (19th in pass, 28th in run)
- 23rd in offense (25th in pass, 18th in run)
- 19th in defense (11th in pass, 30th in run)
- 5th in offense (6th in pass, 5th in run)
- 25th in defense (11th in pass, 31st in run)
Or, in chart form: