As I looked over the schedule this week, I realized a certain game that is being played in Foxborough this weekend. As far as I can remember, this has been the most talked about regular season game in the last ten years. I know that me, along with the rest of the football world, are fascinated by some of the matchups that are going to take place this Sunday Night. However, in the midst of the excitement surrounding the Patriots and Buccaneers game, I have a confession to make about another NFC team. On my weekly Fox Radio appearance, I disparaged the Detroit Lions as a team to be taken lightly. Since then, I have literally lost sleep (on more than one occasion) thinking about how wrong that I was. Because of that, and if I am being 100% honest, my eyes are also going to be on an NFC North matchup which is, in my opinion, a referendum of “where the franchises are.” The Lions (+6) are set to visit Soldier field to confront a Bears team that has turned into a punching bag for NFL pundits through the first three games.
I have spent an extensive amount of time studying and reviewing the Lions over the past few days. I have come to this conclusion: Dan Campbell’s 0-3 Lions deserve more credit. Campbell’s over-simplistic view of what he considers the “culture needed to win” is already taking hold in the Motor City. What I saw in their first three games was a team developing an identity on offense, a defense that is being coached on the small details necessary to succeed, a roster being built on some solid decision making in the front office, and a franchise that possesses some important assets (in the form of draft picks) in the next few years that will continue to lay the foundation for building the Lions back to a contender.
To prove what I discovered, we are going to look at some numbers that will be very exciting to Lion’s fans. But first, and something equally as exciting, is the best running back that no one is paying attention to: 2020 second round pick D’Andre Swift. Swift has all of the tools and qualities a team looks for in a franchise running back. This might be a crazy thing to say about a back that has yet to eclipse 50 yards in a game this season, but I will be thanked later after he is grabbed up on fantasy teams across the country. He is much more than just a runner of the ball. When healthy, he is a weapon that can contribute in all phases of the game and is a matchup nightmare. He is sudden and has an innate ability to make defenders miss. He has excellent vision, particularly in finding the right hole and setting up blocks, even as he continues to learn patience and not to bounce outside too quickly. He has the natural juice/acceleration to excel between the tackles and he has the speed to turn the corner and explode up the field. But equally as important, especially in this day and age, is his feel and body control as a receiver and his ability to catch the ball outside of his frame.
Another thing that I noticed when watching film from the Lions is that they have the makings of one of the better offensive lines in the league. This is evident in Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn’s tendencies to be more comfortable running downhill behind the offensive line than spreading things out and trying to create something which this team is not. The offensive line has all of the pieces in place to succeed. The used a first round pick on Left Tackle Penei Sewell, who is playing much better on the left side than he did in preseason, where he played on the right. They have size and strength at both guard positions. And to round it all up, they have a center, Frank Ragnow, who has all of the characteristics needed to lead a group like this at the highest level.
It is easy to critique Dan Campbell’s clock management last week in a historic loss to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. But even in defeat, particularly on defense, I noticed a detail-oriented team that has bought in to the coaching, culture, and gameplan. While the defense still has a few missing parts, it is right on the edge of becoming a formidable unit and it is clear that Campbell’s vision is coming together.
In contrast to the exciting future in Detroit, the Chicago Bears well-chronicled situation seems to be more of a circumstance as “waiting for the inevitable.” Through Week 3, it is really hard to blame the players for the poor execution when considering how they got to this point. The decision by the powers-at-be to bring back their embattled Head Coach and General Manager was a definite gamble, to say the least. It has created an environment and culture that is really hard to overcome and, whether justified or not, has become an easy place for the locker room to place blame rather than be held accountable. The season started with doubt, beginning with Head Coach Matt Nagy’s handling of the quarterback situation. Whether one feels right, wrong, or indifferent, this decision, coupled with the ill-fated game plan rolled out against Cleveland last week, has become kerosene poured on a fire that was already raging.
When examining and comparing the two division rivals, it gets even worse looking at the numbers. For example, consider the truly head-shaking construction of the Chicago Bear’s offense. A group that has rolled up only 40 points in three games. Even more, their shoddy offensive line has contributed to a measly 2.7 net yards per pass attempt. In comparison, the Lions are averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. According to Pro Football Reference, the Bears rank 23rd in the league in yards BEFORE contact, while the Lions come in 2nd. Both of these statistics are reflective of offensive lines consistent with each team’s scheme and in-game design/game-plan. Along with these disparities, the Lions edge out the Bears in quarterback pressure rate, red zone conversions into touchdowns, and just basic quality of quarterback play.
Along with the immediate numbers that favor the Lions, the long-term advantages are equally one-sided. For example, the Bears have no first-round pick in 2022 and only have five picks total next year. In contrast, the Lions have four picks in the first four rounds. This includes two first round picks. While the Lions seem to have a promising future built off a solid foundation, the Bears appear to be the exact opposite.
By looking strictly at the numbers and team culture, it is easy to see why I favor the Lions not only in the matchup this week, but also when considering the future state of both franchises. Granted, the Bears may get the tide turned and win this weekend in what many consider a “must win,” but this Sunday is merely a small battle in a giant war. And for the Bears, winning the war is much more important. Perhaps the most ironic part of this one-sided debate is that it begs the question: Did we think we would be at this point after the Lion’s press conference introducing Dan Campbell last year? The snickers have now switched sides.
While I am intrigued by the Bears/Lions matchup, here are a couple more games I am looking forward to watching this weekend:
I will take the Lions (+6)
I like Miami (-3) on the road in Indy
I am taking the over of 49.5 in the SF/SEA game
And I like Denver as a one-point home underdog vs Baltimore
I need a bit of a resurgence to get back to 500. As Mariner fans say in Seattle: “we are due.”☺