From last week’s Watchtower:
The 26th-ranked Buffalo offense has been averaging just 18.8 points per game, by far the worst Chan Gailey offense we’ve looked at. The Lions, ranked 23rd, are allowing 22.4 points a game. In theory, we should split the difference here—but applying a moderate systemic advantage, I’ll project the Bills to score 13-16 points. I’m not even going to attempt YpA and/or YpC, given how all over the map those numbers are this time, but I have high confidence in this scoring projection.
Good. Yes. Well done, data.
So what’s going to happen when the 7th-ranked Lions offense comes to town? Since most of those points were scored with Shaun Hill at the helm, there shouldn’t be any dropoff from the usual rate of production. Even if there is . . . well, we’re talking a team that averages 25 points a game going up against the worst defense in the NFL. Even if we presume there is no systemic advantage, the Lions should score 30-35 points. Due to the total lack of systemic historical data, I have low confidence in this projection.
Somehow, the tenor of the national conversation surrounding the Bills-Lions game has become “Oh, sweet, the Bills will get a chance to get off the schneid! They pretty good for 0-8; they just almost beat the Bears, you know.” But the numbers just don’t support it. This is one of the best offenses in the NFL going against, by far, the worst—and on the other side, a mediocre offense against a mediocre defense. The Lions have a clear upper hand in this game, and mostly likely will win, 30-14. Hey, twenty-five fell demons of meadow grazing and road defeats! We are apex predators; you lose.
. . . sigh.
Frankly, I've already beaten this to death, so I won’t be long. The Lions came out with a one-armed quarterback who couldn’t take too many snaps from under center. Their game plan? Run it down their throats, minimize risk, and play a low-variance game where their superior talent and execution will bring home the W.
Problems: the out-of-the-shotgun running game wasn’t working, at all (see Tom Kowalski’s play-by-play film breakdown of the Lions’ running game). Shaun Hill couldn’t throw it downfield, and wasn’t throwing short passes with any accuracy either. Shaun Hill was physically incapable of opening it up, and Drew Stanton hadn’t practiced all week. The Bills came to play as if their lives depended on it, and the Lions came to play as if victory was inevitable. Finally, when all that registered, and the Lions realized they had to flip the switch or lose, Hill’s rustiness, the rain, and some flat-out concentration lapses neutralized the Lions’ downfield attack. Even then, converted on fourth down multiple times to score the needed touchdown . . . except, of course, Hill’s hand-slip & subsequent airmailing of the game-typing two-point conversion. Right.
Outside of marking the Lions’ offensive projection way down (way, way, WAY down) for Hill’s rust, there’s really no way I could account for this—I had no reason to believe Jahvid Best would be completely ineffective against a run defense allowing 4.87 YpC, and no reason to believe that the Lions wouldn’t be able to go to the air if the running game wasn’t working. Poor showing, lads.