NFL Preview - Detroit (3-10) at Tampa Bay (8-5)
By Chris Ruddick, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Detroit Lions carry their NFL-record 26-game losing streak into Raymond James Stadium this week as they try to play spoiler against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is still harboring postseason aspirations.
Detroit, which hasn't won a road game since Oct. 28, 2007, enters this week's contest on a rare winning note following a 7-3 triumph over the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field last week.
Drew Stanton threw for the game's lone touchdown late in the fourth quarter for what proved to be the winning score as the Lions ended a five-game overall losing streak and snapped a 19-game skid in the division.
"We had the right play call when we needed it," said Stanton, who ended the game with 117 yards on 10-of-22 passing with two interceptions. "[Tight end] Will [Heller] did a heck of a job executing it and we got into the end zone. That's why this is the ultimate team game."
Maurice Morris had 51 yards on 11 carries for Detroit, while star wide receiver Calvin Johnson had one catch for 44 yards in the win.
"Winning on the road is something that we need to do as a football team," said Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. "One win isn't going to - say you get one win and then all of a sudden we're going to be undefeated on the road for the next decade - that's not going to happen. But it will be a step and it is something that we need to accomplish.
"Good football teams win on the road, and we aspire to be a good football team."
Tampa, meanwhile, kept its playoff hopes alive with a win over the Washington Redskins last Sunday, but needed a little help in doing so. The Redskins scored with nine seconds left, but when they bobbled the high snap on the extra point, attempt, the Buccaneers escaped with a 17-16 victory.
"A big win for our football team," said Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris. "It helps us in our race to 10 [wins]. I'm pretty happy with our defense, we made some key stops. That's the game of football, it's the game of inches."
The win improved Tampa to 5-0 in games decided by three points or less and kept them one game behind the New York Giants for the NFC's final Wild Card spot.
"These guys go out and they play hard, they practice hard and it's paid off," said Morris. "They're sitting at the point where they're 8-5, they're racing to 10 [wins] - may need more - and we're trying to go out there and meet that ultimate goal, to qualify for that next round of competition."
The Lions hold a 27-25 edge in their all-time regular-season series with Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers have won seven of the past nine meetings between the clubs. Tampa Bay was a 38-20 road victor in the most recent encounter, which took place during Detroit's 0-16 campaign of 2008, and dealt the Lions a 17-13 loss in Detroit's last visit to Raymond James Stadium back in 2005. The Lions have dropped two straight in Tampa since claiming a 28-14 decision in 2000.
Detroit and Tampa Bay were both residents of the NFC Central from 1977-2001, before the current four-division format was instituted.
In addition to the regular-season set, the teams have met once in the postseason, with Tampa Bay securing a 20-10 home victory in a 1997 NFC First- Round Playoff.
Both Morris and Schwartz will be opposing one another, as well as their counterpart's respective team, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The Lions could have quarterback Shaun Hill back under center on Sunday. He has missed the team's last two games with a broken finger, but threw in practice this week. Stanton has been decent filling in and threw for 117 yards with a touchdown in the win over the Packers, but only found top target Johnson (63 receptions, 916 yards, 12 TD) once, ending the star wideout's four-game touchdown streak. Johnson has just four catches in the last four weeks, but they have totaled 110 yards. As a whole the Lions are 11th in passing offense this season, averaging 238.5 yards per game, but expect them to try and establish the ground game right off the bat with rookie running back Jahvid Best (485 rushing yards, 4 TD). Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, meanwhile, is among the leaders at his position with 62 catches, the most in a season by a Lions tight end as well.
Another key contributor to Tampa Bay's turnaround has been the play of a defense personally overseen by Morris and which heads into this week's action tied for third in the NFL with 18 interceptions and sports a No. 11 overall ranking in pass efficiency. Even without playmaking cornerback Aqib Talib, who is out for the season with a torn hip tendon, the Bucs held Washington to just 228 yards through the air this past Sunday. Usual nickel back E.J. Biggers (39 tackles, 1 INT, 8 PD) stepped into Talib's position opposite five-time Pro Bowl honoree Ronde Barber (68 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT) and was solid against the Redskins, recording seven tackles and a pass defensed. Though the Buccaneers rank just 27th against the run (133.1 ypg), they had been showing improvement in that aspect before allowing Washington's Ryan Torain to scamper for 172 yards last Sunday. Those stats could get worse this week as injuries continue to pile up, with young tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Quincy Black both getting hurt in the Washington game and placed on injured reserve this week. That will place more of a burden on steady middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (96 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT).
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
The Buccaneers have been quite proficient running the ball of late and will try to continue that trend this week against the Lions. Rookie LeGarrette Blount (667 rushing yards, 5 TD) supplanted oft-injured veteran Carnell Williams (371 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 3 total TD) as the lead running back at midseason and has proven he can handle the load, averaging a solid 4.5 yards per attempt and delivering a pair of 100-yard efforts. Williams has remained an integral part of the game plan as a receiver, giving second-year quarterback Josh Freeman (2,708 passing yards, 17 TD, 6 INT) a sound check-down option behind the offense's two primary targets, impressive rookie wideout Mike Williams (52 receptions, 784 yards, 7 TD) and tight end Kellen Winslow (52 receptions, 3 TD). The unflappable Freeman, who's engineered five fourth- quarter comebacks this year and drastically cut down his interception totals from his 2009 debut, had hit a bit of a rough patch in an otherwise strong sophomore season before completing 15-of-25 passes for 266 yards against the Redskins. Injuries aren't just a problem on the defense, as the Bucs are without starting right guard Davin Joseph and center Jeff Faine for the rest of the year.
Tampa's improved rushing attack could be in for another efficient day this week, as the Lions rank just 22nd in the NFL in run defense (122.7 ypg) and are giving up an average of 4.5 yards per carry to opponents. The unit does have one obvious strength in its ability to pressure the quarterback, however, having recorded a respectable 36 sacks for the year and receiving a monster debut season from rookie tackle Ndamukong Suh (52 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 INT).
Johnson is Detroit's only absolute fantasy option. Pettigrew and Best are good picks in deeper leagues and for owners who are desperate. There appears to be a couple of quality choices on the Tampa Bay offense for those to use in the critical stage of the fantasy season, however. Blount should get plenty of touches, albeit against a solid front seven of the Lions, and Mike Williams has shown himself to be a useful second receiver in weekly lineups. Winslow's more of a lower-end alternative at the tight end spot, however, and Freeman's overall numbers don't warrant a start at quarterback.
That road losing streak is tough to get past, but the Lions have a chance to make it come to an end here. The Bucs have been a great story this season, but there are just too many injuries for them to overcome. While Tampa probably isn't as good as its 8-5 record may indicate, Detroit is definitely better than a three-win team. The Lions do get after the quarterback, and Freeman could be in some trouble with a patchwork line in front of him. Calvin Johnson is the best player on the field, and whoever's at quarterback for Detroit will find a way to get him the ball. The Buccaneers' playoff hopes end here as the Lions say goodbye to one of the most dubious streaks in NFL history.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Detroit 17, Tampa Bay 13
12/16 17:33:07 ET