This Sunday the, NFC North leading, Detroit Lions (7-5) will head to the state of Pennsylvania to play a team that at one point this season was on the verge of desperation. The weather conditions will not be favorable and their discipline and ball security will once again be tested. Unlike in their week 11 matchup with the Steelers however, this week, they are the underdog. And, for whatever reason, this role serves the “us against the world” message of their coach exceedingly well.
As I break down the Week 14 matchup between the Detroit Lions (7-5) and their NFCE hopeful opponents, the Philadelphia Eagles (7-5), I am going to use 3 main factors to predict the outcome and flow of the game:
1) Eye test: What we have come to know and expect from these teams. Obvious trends and “key issues” that must be paid attention to.
2) Statistical Breakdown: What are the strengths and weaknesses of each team and how does that play against the opponent.
3) Outside factors: Weather and Injuries (power outages, officiating blunders, unruly fans, etc.)
Oftentimes when looking at games, we outsmart ourselves and end up over analyzing a game that is really not that hard to figure out. This is the case with Lions-Eagles. We have the weather, the mudder vs. no mudder discussion, we have an injured secondary in Detroit and we have a QB due for a regression to the mean in Philadelphia. At the core of it all though, we have the 2nd and 3rd ranked offenses in the NFL (by yardage) and the 15th and 30th ranked defenses. In other words, let the track-meet begin.
The Matchup: Lions Defense vs. Eagles Offense
Philadelphia: 403 Yards per Game (3rd in NFL) 25 Points per Game (8th in NFL)
Detroit: 345 Yards Allowed per Game (15th in NFL) 24 Points Allowed per game (18th in NFL)
Philadelphia converts on 38% of 3rd downs (8th in the NFL)
Detroit allows conversions on 30% of 3rd downs (1st in the NFL)
The Eagles come into the contest averaging just over 400 yards per game, with 146 of those yards coming on the ground. They feature the NFL’s 2nd best running attack and one of the League’s top 5 most dangerous players in Shady McCoy. The Lions, however, have been a force against the run this year. Their improved play begins with the Ends, Willie and Ziggy, and continues with the consistently stellar play of Suh and the increasingly reliable play of not-so-little Nicky (not to mention the rotational players). The D-Line has been stellar and has worked as a unit to keep the LBs clean; Tulloch and Levy have responded by flying to the football and making stops.
All in all the Eagles Run vs. the Lions Run D has the appearance of “Unstoppable force meets Immovable object” but in all actuality it will simply push the Eagles Offense to pass more than they have over the course of their 4 game win streak. THE FOLLOWING PUN IS INTENDED: The Eagles will do their hunting in the air this week. Darius Slay is out (though he had been inconsistent thus far anyways) and Chris Houston is questionable (though *see Slay). Even with Houston playing, they will need solid performances from Rashean Mathis and Bill Bentley (and probably a little something from Jonte Green as well).
There is no doubt that the Eagles will move the ball with some measure of success against the Lions and, in breaking it down, I see them recording six scores. The type of scores they end up with is where the Lions will realize an advantage. The Lions currently feature the league’s best 3rd down defense, allowing opponents to convert on just 30% of their opportunities. The Eagles are converting at a 38% clip which puts them right in the middle of the pack. This being the case, the Lions should be able to get off the field on 3rd down and force the Eagles to settle for Field Goals (where they fare only slightly better than the Lions) to the tune of a 3/3, TD/FG ratio.
A final note on the Eagles offense; Nick Foles has done a tremendous job since stepping into the starting Quarterback role for the Eagles. More impressive than his lack of interceptions is his ability to involve all of his weapons in the passing attack. But let’s not get this confused, his success is heavily reliant on the Eagles ability to consistently run the ball. In the Eagles 7 victories this year, they have attempted an average of 30 passes and 35 rushes. In their 5 loses, they average 36 passes and 25 rushes. In context, Lions opponents (across all games) have averaged 23 rushes per game. Whether this is because of nature (Lions run D forcing the pass) or nurture (opposing coordinators game planning the pass), the fact remains: if the Eagles get too pass happy, they will put their young QB at the mercy of a hungry Lions D-Line, and we will make a mistake.
The Matchup: Lions Offense vs. Eagles Defense
Detroit: 424 Yards per Game (2nd in NFL) 27 Points per Game (4th in NFL)
Philadelphia: 412 Yards Allowed per Game (31st in NFL) 23 Points Allowed per Game (16th in NFL)
Detroit converts on 45% of 3rd downs (4th in NFL)
Philadelphia allows conversions on 40.4 % of 3rd downs (26th in NFL)
The Lions will move the football against the Eagles. Come rain, hale sleet, snow, thunder, lightning, locusts, asteroids, or anything else you might be able to imagine, the 2nd best Offense in the League will not have any trouble moving the ball against the 2nd worse defense in the league. There really isn’t even that much more to say about it. Has the Eagles Defense been playing better in recent weeks? Yes. Have they also played against Carson Palmer, Scott Tolzien, Terrelle Pryor, and the ghost of RGIII present? Yes. The Lions should be able to run, pass and score against the Eagles to the tune of their own 6 scores. The difference in this one will be Touchdowns to Field Goals. The Lions will be able to capitalize on the Eagles’ inability to get off the field and thus should be able to tip the TD/FG ratio in their favor 4/2.
The unknown in this matchup will be the turnover battle. The Lions can talk all they want about taking care of the football, but the numbers don’t lie. They are giving away the rock at an alarming rate and currently feature a -8 turnover ratio (good for 26th in the NFL). The Eagles on the other hand, currently sit at +7 (8th in the League) and will be more than happy to capitalize on any blunders by the not-so-sure-handed Lions. That being said, the Eagles are so bad defensively, the Lions can probably afford 3 Turnovers (so long as none are returned for a TD) and still walk away with a victory.
For those keeping score at home, this puts my final score at 34-30. Given their recent struggles, it’s not out of the realm of imagination that there could be a missed FG or return TD, but to predict one would be unwise and in evaluating the matchup, neither side possesses a real Special Teams advantage. While the Lions kicking game has been less than spectacular up to this point, the Eagles’ is almost equally as bad. When we look at the return numbers, both teams fall in the middle of the pack. This being the case, I can’t give either team a dramatic ST advantage or predict any monumental swings on account of that facet of the game.
Detroit Lions: 34 Philadelphia Eagles: 30
So there we have it; a track-meet worthy of the top two offense in the NFL and a game sure to be filled with fireworks aplenty. Do the Lions still maintain the uncanny ability to fail to live up to their potential? Absolutely, but they seem to play their best football when the odds (and odds makers) are against them. So at least this expert (in the same way Dr. Seuss is a doctor) predicts “another Lions Victory”.