When the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals square off this Sunday, they will both be playing for control of their respective divisions.
Both 4-2, the Bengals already have a game lead on the rest of the AFC North, and the Lions are keeping their record level with the Bears (over whom they already own a head-to-head tiebreaker).
Still, neither of these teams is beyond reproach. Neither has shown the propensity to avoid mistakes or win consistently. In short, neither one really looks like a 4-2 team.
That’s why this game will be a proving ground. The Lions have been doing exactly what they’re supposed to, if sometimes unconvincingly: they’re undefeated at home, and have an even 2-2 split on the road. The Bengals can’t decide if they’re really good or really awful, having beaten the Patriots and Packers, but losing to the Browns and just scraping one out in overtime against the Bills.
But regardless of flaws, these are both teams that are pulling out wins. How do the stats say they’re doing it, and how will they fare this week?
As has been pointed out elsewhere on this very site, Matthew Stafford deserves more credit than he’s getting for keeping the Lions offense afloat with guys like Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree serving as his leading receivers. Especially with the defense taking a statistical step back against the Browns.
Really though, the Lions came very close to maintaining their averages in most areas. It’s actually almost uncanny how changed their defensive averages are compared to last week. For reference, their average in passing yards allowed increased by a tenth of a yard.
Also of note is that the Bengals are very similar to the Browns. They’re a team with a top-10 defense and a middling offense led by a star wide receiver, unstable quarterback, and committee of running backs.
However, there are a couple of common threads to the Lions’ wins this season: they give up a lot of yards on defense, but they limit scoring, and they force turnovers.
These are two areas in which the Lions should be able to focus in against the Bengals this week. The only area in which the Lions defense is statistically better than the Bengals’ offense is in scoring, underlying Cincinnati’s stuggles to put the ball in the end zone, and the Lions’ proficiency in keeping it out.
The Bengals also have a negative turnover differential, due largely to quarterback Andy Dalton’s insecurity with the ball. If the Lions want to pull this game out, they will need to continue to tighten up the defense between the 30s and make sure Dalton never feels comfortable in the pocket. He’ll make mistakes, he just needs to be forced into them.
If you were lucky enough to bet on Joseph Fauria last week, you were amply rewarded with over 20 points in standard scoring leagues. He may just be a red zone target, but if he’s going to start pulling down multiple touchdowns every week, he’s worth the play anyway. Besides, with his performance against Cleveland and Tony Scheffler’s injury, he may start to see more than just red zone duties in the near future.
That being said, don’t expect him to catch multiple touchdowns every week. He could be really solid, but that kind of production is an outlier for even All-Pro tight ends.
Calvin Johnson got fantasy owners everywhere excited when he was announced as active against the Browns, only to drop a touchdown pass and play only a fraction of the offense’s snaps, acting mostly as a decoy. Of course, every week he should be closer to full health, so he’s less risky to play against Cincinnati than he was against Cleveland, especially considering he doesn’t have Joe Haden to contend with.
Week 6 Sleeper
If you’re in one of those rare leagues that includes individual defensive players in some way (like mine), DeAndre Levy has been a cash cow. He pulled down two interceptions against the Browns, and always piles up a bunch of tackles. He is now up to four interceptions, which is tied for the lead among all defensive players, including defensive backs. Had his pick-six off Christian Ponder not been called back, he would also lead the NFL in defensive touchdowns (with Time Jennings) with two.
Only two of the Lions’ first six games have been at home, both against division rivals. Here’s how the Lions have performed in their home games thus far.
2-0 — Lions’ home record in 2013
37 — Average points scored by the Lions
28 — Average points scored by Lions’ opponents
3-6 — TD-INT ratio for opposing quarterbacks
182 — Total yards per game for Reggie Bush
6/6 — David Akers on field goals
16 — Total kickoffs by the Lions at home
16 — Total kickoffs by the Lions that have landed in the end zone
6 — Number of different Lions with touchdowns in home games: Bush (2), Bell (2), Johnson, Fauria, Stafford (rushing), Fairley (fumble return)
1-2 — Bengals’ road record in 2013; their first victory was last weeks’ 27-24 overtime victory against the Bills
One can still find many tickets available for this game. Currently, the average price is $124, with prices up 3% this week. That $124 price tag is 9% below the $136 average price for Detroit Lions tickets this season, which is good for 20th in the NFL. Prices are also 28% below the average price for Bengals tickets away from Cincy in 2013.
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