The Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7) head to my neck of the woods to visit the Detroit Lions (also 4-7) on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. The game will be broadcast in local markets on FOX.
I am of course familiar with my hometown team, but to get better insights into the Lions, I reached out to Mike Payton of Pride of Detroit — SB Nation’s home for all things Lions, and without a doubt, one of the best websites on the network.
What do the Lions do well? What is the Dan Campbell experience like? Are the Lions really a playoff contender in the NFC? Mike answers all of these questions and more.
1. OK, as a fellow (metro) Detroiter, I follow the Lions and try to generally keep up with what is going on with the team. After a 1-6 start, Detroit won three and in a row before a close loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. What has gone well for Detroit and what does it still need to do better?
Mike: The big difference for the Lions is that the defense has really started to come around. I know it doesn’t seem that way when you look at the stats, but the Lions are making big plays at the right moments for the first time in a very long time. They’re forcing turnovers and making plays to close out games. On the offensive side, they’re getting healthy and quarterback Jared Goff is playing well on top of that. They still need to lock things down more on defense and they also need to make better decisions on offense late in the game, but other than that, things are going much better for this team.
2. Can you please briefly explain the Dan Campbell experience for Jaguars fans (the good and the bad)? Do you believe he is the right coach for the Lions in the long-term? Why or why not?
Mike: I do believe he’s the right coach and I think he’s going to be here for a while. On the outside, I think people look at Campbell and think he’s Hulk Hogan on a 12-pack of energy drinks, but that’s not it. He has come in and immediately changed the Lions’ culture to something I’ve never seen here before. The team believes in itself and it believes in the idea that they’re a part of something. It’s intoxicating. As far as on the field, Campbell has coached well for the most part. He has some issues with time management, but what coach in this league doesn’t. He also has some problems with when to be aggressive and when not to be, but it’s nothing that can’t be remedied over time.
3. What under-the-radar players should Jaguars fans look out for on Sunday? Please give us one name on offense and one name on defense.
Mike: On offense it’s wide receiver Tom Kennedy. With rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams on the verge of debuting, this might be the last time we see Kennedy for a while, but he’s a guy that has come out of nowhere with one or two big plays a game every week. You never know when it’s coming. Most the time you wonder if he’s even active. Then out of nowhere he’s catching a 40-yard pass in the fourth quarter.
On defense it’s Kerby Joseph. The rookie safety has started eight games this season and he’s forced five turnovers in that time. He’s been a revelation during the Lions’ nice run in November. He’s still a rookie and has rookie growing pains, but he’s shown that he could be a big player for this team in the future and he is a turnover machine.
4. If you could take one player from Jacksonville’s roster and put that player on Detroit’s roster, who would it be and why?
Mike: Aidan Hutchinson has been great this season and he should definitely be a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award when it comes down to it, but he still needs help on the other side of the line. So naturally, Josh Allen would be an awesome addition that I wish the Lions could make. Those two together could be quite the formidable pair as pass rushers.
5. With six games remaining and the NFC looking somewhat open, can the Lions actually threaten for a Wild Card spot? How do you see Detroit finishing the season?
Mike: The NFC is so bad this season that anything is possible. It’s going to take the Lions finishing strong. I believe they can definitely do that. Unfortunately, I have hard time seeing that actually happen, though. This could be a tough game, they have the Vikings next week and then they have to finish the season at Lambeau Field against the Packers. That’s all a tall order. Ultimately I think the Lions can grab a few more wins, but they’ll miss out on the playoffs. That’ll be OK, though. Just showing improvement and playing meaningful football in December is more than anyone could have asked for in year two of this rebuild.
6. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Lions are currently favored by one point and the over/under is set at 51. Will Detroit cover/win, are you taking the over or the under and what is your final score prediction?
Mike: I think I’ll go with the over here. Both of these offenses are playing well and I think this could be a pretty high scoring game. I think the Jags are going to really give the Lions a lot of trouble, but I think the Lions pull out the win late in the game. I’m going with 38-35 win for the Lions.
A huge thank you to Mike for providing thoughts and insights about Detroit. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter, and for comprehensive coverage on the Lions, follow Pride of Detroit as well.