By Shawn Lealos
While the Houston Texans are sitting in first place in the AFC South, they have been up and down this season, trading wins and losses since opening the season 2-0. That continued this week when the Texans lost to the Denver Broncos and are 2-3 in their last five games. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions opened the season 1-3 and then ripped off three wins in a row to move to 4-3 on the year. With the Lions picking up steam and the Texans hit and miss through the first part of the season, this is a game that seems like a must-win for both teams.
Detroit Lions Season Record
The Detroit Lions are 4-3, a record that is very similar to that of the Houston Texans. Despite similar records, the Texans sit alone in first place in the AFC South while the Lions are in third place in the tough NFC North. Even if the Lions win, they will be no better than tied for second in their division if the Green Bay Packers also lose. However, the Lions have to win here or they could fall further back in the NFC North, something that makes this more of a must-win for the Lions than the Texans.
Detroit Lions On Offense
Matthew Stafford has always been the heart and soul of the Detroit Lions on offense, but he has also been criticized for not winning when it counts. Stafford is once again proving why he is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. However, this season Stafford is playing more consistently than he has in the past. Ever since Week 8 of the 2015 NFL season, Stafford has thrown for 4,310 yards, 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a passer rating of 105.4. In seven games this season, Stafford has 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Even more impressive is that Stafford is doing this without Calvin Johnson for the first time in his career. After Johnson retired, the Lions brought in Marvin Jones and he has picked up the slack with 33 receptions for 623 yards and four touchdowns. The one area that the Lions lack this season is rushing offense. Theo Riddick leads the team with 171 yards but only averages 3.4 yards-per-carry. Justin Forsett just joined the team at running back, but he has only gained 38 yards in his first two games.
Detroit Lions On Defense
At one time, the Detroit Lions relied on their defense to win games. The defense is missing many of the weapons that at one time made them dominant, but they are still solid enough to stop other teams. Tahir Whitehead leads the team with 67 total tackles this season while Kyle Hyder leads the team with five sacks. Detroit also has six turnovers on the season, but the team has given up 20 points or more four times this season and over 30 points twice.
Detroit Lions Players To Watch
Matthew Stafford – As mentioned earlier, Matthew Stafford is playing better than he has over his entire career. The stats from game eight of last season to now almost accounts for an entire season and Stafford’s numbers puts him up there with names like Drew Brees and Tom Brady. In the games that the Lions lost this season, Stafford threw four interceptions and four touchdowns. In their wins, he threw 11 touchdowns and no picks.
Marvin Jones – Marvin Jones joined the Lions after a decent—albeit, average—career in Cincinnati. After seven games in 2016, Jones is on pace to shatter his career highs. His best season in Cincinnati saw him catch 65 balls for 816 yards in 2015 while catching 10 touchdown passes in 2013. Jones is now on pace for 75 receptions with 1,424 yards and nine touchdowns. Those aren’t Calvin Johnson numbers, but they are respectable.
Tahir Whitehead – On defense, it is Tahir Whitehead that will be responsible for stopping the Texans up-and-down offense. Through just seven games, Whitehead is only 19 tackles away from beating his best season ever. He isn’t a pass rusher, but if he can impose his will on Lamar Miller, Detroit will cause Houston a lot of headaches.
The Houston Texans have lost games in alternating weeks ever since Week 3, with their loss to Denver this past week showing how far this team has fallen. They have to prove they are more consistent if they want to make the postseason in 2016. The Detroit Lions are on a hot streak, and as long as they can avoid turnovers, they are better than Houston. Detroit has the advantage here, but never count out the Texans defense from forcing turnovers. Houston will have to rely on its defense to win or else Detroit will impose their will.