The Detroit Lions are the last remaining winless team in the NFL. Coincidentally, the Detroit Pistons are the last winless team remaining in the NBA, but that’s irrelevant right now. The fact is that, despite the Lions record starting with a zero, they’re one of the best terrible teams we’ve seen in recent memory.
Just look at their roster. It’s not that bad. Sure, they don’t have many proven receivers, but the strength of their offensive line, when healthy, should theoretically give Jared Goff enough time to go through his reads and find open receivers. Or, at the very least, give the Lions’ receivers enough time to find the holes in zone coverage or beat their man. While the defense is still incredibly shaky against the pass, their run defense has actually looked better than average at some points. I mean, any team that can hold Lamar Jackson and the Ravens under 20 certainly doesn’t have a putrid run defense.
The Lions aren’t just darling underdogs on paper. They’ve actually been statistical darlings, too. Despite holding the worst record in the NFL, the Lions aren’t actually last in any major statistical category (except for defensive passer rating). They’re also the unluckiest team in the league, and that’s not just some vague opinion I have. The luck rating is determined by several factors, including wrongful penalties (ones that should have been called against the opposition) strength of schedule, and other events like bad snaps on special teams and, you know, Justin Tucker nailing a record 66-yard field goal in the closing seconds of a game. In 2021, the Lions (-1.7 luck rating) have been affected by luck more than any other team in the league aside from the Green Bay Packers (+2.2 luck rating). That’s indicative of a team that just had a few bad breaks, and is bound to even out somewhat over the second half of the season.
I’m not going to say that every week has been pretty for the Lions. However, they’ve put up decent fights against some of the best teams in the league, losing by only nine points to the Rams in a game where the Lions led going into the fourth quarter and losing by just two to both the Ravens and Vikings on last-second game-winning field goals. Head coach Dan Campbell might have some interesting methods, but you can’t deny that this Lions team feels different than the ones we’ve seen in recent years under Matt Patricia. This is a team that fights. This is a team that doesn’t give up because they’re totally outclassed by their opposition. This is a team that wants to win in front of their home crowd, and I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to happen this Sunday.
I’ve written before about how I think the Eagles have been vastly underrated this year. They’ve put up good fights against several teams and have a very well-rounded offense capable of driving the ball downfield against some of the best defenses in the NFL. However, the Lions match up extraordinarily well with the Eagles.
We all know how bad Detroit’s receiving corps is. With Tyrell Williams on Injured Reserve, the team is relying on the likes of Kalif Raymond and Amon-Ra St. Brown to create separation on the outside. The only real threats in the Lions passing game are tight end TJ Hockenson and halfback D’Andre Swift. Luckily for the Lions, The Eagles have struggled most against talented tight ends and pass-catching halfbacks. The Eagles are one of only three teams in the NFL who’ve allowed six touchdown to opposing tight ends in 2021 (Texans and Ravens), and while they’ve done fairly well at limiting tight ends in terms of yardage, they’ve struggled at covering them in general, allowing the second-most receptions to opposing tight ends (46). Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed more (48).
The Eagles have also allowed the fourth-most receptions to opposing running backs (49), and are one of only two teams (Texans) to have allowed over 800 yards on the ground. The Eagles linebackers have been invisible for most of the season, and with a halfback as agile as D’Andre Swift, the Lions should be able to maintain long, steady drives, control the clock, and beat the Eagles defense into submission by the end of four quarters.
Swift and Hockenson will be the key to beating the Eagles on Sunday, and I’m sure Campbell and company know that. They’re probably drumming up a game plan that heavily involves both of them as we speak — but let’s be honest, any game plan that doesn’t revolve around your two best offensive players is probably doomed to fail.
While losing to Detroit in any sport (baseball, hockey, basketball, or football) feels bad nowadays, the Eagles should not if they lose this weekend. Detroit is not a good team, but they are much better than people realize. They certainly won’t finish the regular season with zero wins and they will not have the first overall pick in next year’s draft. Sunday will be evidence of that.
Now that I have made that prediction, surely, the Eagles will win by 30. That’s how it always works, isn’t it?