Buffalo Bills (7-3) at Detroit Lions (4-6)
The coaches: Lions-Dan Campbell (12-26-1 overall, 7-19-1 with Lions); Bills-Sean McDermott (56-35 overall, all with Bills).
Last game: Lions beat New York Giants, 31-18. Bills beat Cleveland Browns, 31-23.
Last meeting: Dec. 16, 2018: Bills won, 14-13.
Lions CB Jerry Jacobs vs. Bills WR Gabe Davis: Jeff Okudah is out with a brain injury, so the Lions will try and stop Buffalo’s high-powered passing attack with Jacobs, Mike Hughes and Will Harris at cornerback. That’s less than ideal. Josh Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and Stefon Diggs is second in the league with 76 catches. My guess is the Lions will give Diggs the Justin Jefferson treatment and roll help his way most of the game. That could open opportunities for Davis, Buffalo’s No. 2 receiver. Davis has only 29 catches this season, but he’s one of the league’s premier deep threats at 21.1 yards per receptions. Jacobs is four games into his return from a torn ACL, so he still has rust to shake off. The Giants challenged him with crossing routes last week. Don’t be surprised if the Bills go at him, too.
Bills OLB Von Miller vs. Lions RT Penei Sewell: Miller has been one of the NFL’s best pass rushers for more than a decade, so long that Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said every offensive line coach he has played for has had a “Von Miller Rule” that requires the line to shift protection towards an opponent’s top pass rusher in key situations. Miller, a future Hall of Famer, rushes primarily from the left side of the defense, which should pit him against Sewell, the Lions’ precocious right tackle. The Bills rely heavily on their four-man rush to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and Miller has delivered with a team-high eight sacks. Sewell has played some of his best football against the best pass rushers he has faced. He’ll need to keep Miller at bay or it will be a long day for Jared Goff.
Lions run offense vs. Bills run defense
The Lions need to grind the clock with their 10th-ranked rushing offense and keep Allen off the field to have any chance of an upset, which means Jamaal Williams could be in for a heavy workload coming off a three-touchdown game. Williams is like a heavyweight fighter who buries his opponent with repeated body blows. It’s not always pretty, and he doesn’t deliver long runs, but he has been effective all season.
Justin Jackson out-snapped and out-touched D’Andre Swift last week and deserves to be playing as the Lions’ No. 2 running back right now. He’s an effective change-of-pace runner who saw time in some two-back sets last week. Swift still has big-play ability few backs in the NFL can match, but injuries and inconsistent play have dogged him enough that Lions coaches don’t seem to trust him right now.
The Bills are eighth in the NFL against the run at 106.6 yards per game and have bottled up two of the league’s best backs, Derrick Henry (13 carries, 25 yards) and Nick Chubb (14 carries, 19 yards), this season. Goff said Buffalo’s linebacker tandem of Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds may be the best in the NFL, though Edmunds might not play because of a heel injury. Edge: Lions
Lions pass offense vs. Bills pass defense
Goff has thrown for less than 200 yards two of the past three weeks as a Lions passing attack that looked so promising early this season has fizzled. Amon-Ra St. Brown has been the Lions’ only reliable receiver with Josh Reynolds (back) on the shelf and DJ Chark battling ankle soreness, though the Lions have gotten important contributions from Kalif Raymond and Tom Kennedy during their win streak.
A turnover machine the first half of the season, Goff has taken better care of the ball in recent weeks, though his two-game interception-less streak is somewhat deceiving. Goff had one pick called back by penalty against the Chicago Bears and another dropped by the Giants. He can’t afford to make mistakes and give the Bills extra possessions.
Buffalo does not show many exotic looks on defense, but Campbell said they are disruptive. The Bills might need Miller in an every-down role with Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa battling injuries. Milano is one of the top coverage linebackers and the Bills are tied for the league lead with 13 interceptions. Top Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White has practiced in recent weeks in his return from the torn ACL he suffered last Thanksgiving, but it’s unclear if he’ll play Thursday. Edge: Bills
Bills run offense vs. Lions run defense
The Bills are a pass-first offense, but they rank third in the NFL in yards per carry (5.2) and showed last week they can win with a run-centric gameplan. Devin Singletary set season-highs in yards (86) and carries (18) against the Browns, and rookie James Cook added another 86 yards rushing.
Allen is Buffalo’s best rushing threat. He’s big, physical and elusive in the pocket. He’s willing to take a hit on designed runs. He leads Buffalo with 483 rushing yards. And he’s playing with an elbow injury that has the Lions thinking the Bills will keep the ball on the ground again.
“I know that they’ve traditionally thrown it, but we’re anticipating they’re going to try to run it,” Campbell said. “I mean, that was a good recipe for them so I would think they’ll try to do a lot of those things (again).”
The Lions were lights out against the run last week, when they held Saquon Barkley to 22 yards on 15 carries. Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs have an edge inside as Buffalo likely will be without center Mitch Morse, but the Lions have the NFL’s 31st-ranked run defense. Edge: Bills
Bills pass offense vs. Lions pass defense
Allen has fallen off his MVP trajectory, but is one of the most gifted passers on the planet. He has a huge arm and a high tolerance for risk, though his interception problems – he has thrown 10; second-most in the NFL – have kept opponents in games.
When Allen is right − he has been more erratic than usual since hurting his elbow in Week 9 − Buffalo’s passing attack is as good as any. Diggs is a do-it-all receiver who lines up everywhere and catches almost everything thrown his way. He has more than twice as many receptions as any other Bills player, though Davis is a ferocious deep threat and tight end Dawson Knox is a trusted security blanket.
The Lions have done a good job manufacturing turnovers during their three-game win streak – six of their eight interceptions have come the past three weeks – and cannot afford to miss any opportunities against Allen. Okudah’s absence is a big blow to a secondary allowing the most yards per pass play in the NFL. Kerby Joseph (five takeaways) is playing well at safety, but the Lions will be without edge rushers Charles Harris and Josh Paschal for the second straight week. Edge: Bills
The Lions have done plenty of things well on special teams this year. Their field goal/extra point block unit tipped its second kick of the season last week, they rank third in kick return average (26.9 yards) and they’ve converted both fake punt attempts. Campbell has historically taken more risks against the best teams the Lions have faced, so he may have something up his sleeve Thursday. Jack Fox’s net punting average is a career-low 40.2 yards, but he responded well to special teams coordinator Dave Fipp’s challenge to be more consistent last week.
The Bills rank third in Football Outsiders’ composite special teams rankings and have plus units in every phase of the kicking game. Sam Martin, the ex-Lion, is netting 43.7 yards per punt, and Tyler Bass is 21 of 24 on field goal attempts, though he does have one miss under 40 yards. The Bills have challenged teams to return kickoffs and done well in coverage, and Nyheim Hines is averaging 13.3 yards per punt return since coming over in a trade deadline deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Edge: Bills
The Lions are riding their first three-game winning streak since 2017, and Campbell said he expects an “electric” atmosphere at Ford Field. The Lions can stamp themselves as legitimate playoff contenders with a win over a good Bills team, but they’ll need a near-perfect game to do that. The Bills have Super Bowl aspirations, and even with an ailing Allen, their offense is the type of dynamic unit the Lions have struggled to stop all season. Allen is a dual-threat weapon bound to make some plays with his feet, and the shorthanded Lions secondary does not have the horses to run with Diggs and Davis. Turnovers are the great equalizer, and the Lions have done a good job generating extra possessions in recent weeks. They’ll need to win the turnover battle to spring a turkey day surprise, and even that might not be enough to slow down Buffalo’s offense. Pick: Bills 35, Lions 24.