NFL Preview - Detroit (5-2) at Denver (2-4)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Okay, Detroit...show us some resilience.
Just a few weeks ago, the perennially sad-sack Lions were at the top of the NFL world -- undefeated after five games and being tossed about by national radio hosts as a legitimate contender for NFC power.
Two weeks later, they're entrenched in bounce-back mode.
A loss to the San Francisco 49ers was followed by "handshake-gate" between head coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, which was followed a week later by a listless 23-16 home defeat to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Lions enter Sunday's Week 8 matchup with the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field, where they'll see quarterbacking phenom Tim Tebow, with some issues of their own at the position, though theirs is tied to injury.
Starter Matthew Stafford sprained his right ankle near the end of last Sunday's loss to the Falcons, which initially left his status for the Denver game in limbo. He returned to practice Wednesday, however, leaving Schwartz to think he's set to be the team's No. 1 signal-caller in Denver, though that's not set in stone.
"Getting better every day and hopefully we can keep him on that track," Schwartz said of Stafford. "If he's able to go on Sunday, then he will. He's our starting quarterback, but we have to be prepared in any case."
Preparation means that backup Shaun Hill, who threw for 2,686 yards in 11 games last season, also took snaps with the first team and insists he will be ready if called upon.
"I approach every week the same, no matter what," Hill said. "Just being in the system a little bit longer, I think that helps everybody."
As for Stafford, he�s angling to be out there when scheduled.
"It feels okay," he said of the ankle. "It's sore obviously, but it's made progress since Sunday. If I'm healthy enough to play, I'm going to try to be out there. It's yet to be seen if I can get to that point, but if I can, then I want to play."
As for Denver, it's quarterback is in mid-ascension.
Tebow added to his legend last weekend in Miami, shaking off an awful first 55 minutes to engineer a 15-point comeback and subsequent 18-15 overtime defeat of the Dolphins.
The Broncos became the first team to come from behind and win a game after trailing by 15 or more points with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter since 1970.
"It was my fault we were in that position," Tebow said of his team's deficit. "Silly things kept happening. On the sidelines, we were still believing. We wanted it, and [my teammates] believed in me for 60 minutes.
Tebow is now 2-2 in four career starts and 1-0 since he was elevated to No. 1 on the depth chart over incumbent Kyle Orton by first-year head coach John Fox.
"We said all along, you know, Tim is a work in progress," Fox said. "It was only his fourth start in the National Football League, and he'll just continue to get better. I think he'll tell you, and I know I'd tell you, I liked the last five minutes better than the first 55. But those are things -- he knows it, I know it -- and we feel like he'll improve."
Denver has won six of 10 all-time meetings with Detroit, but was dealt a 44-7 shellacking by the Lions when these teams last faced off, which took place in the Motor City in 2007. The Broncos had bested Detroit two straight times prior to that defeat, a 17-7 road victory in 1999 and a 20-16 decision at Sports Authority Field in 2003, and the Lions are 1-3 lifetime in Denver and haven't won there since a 24-20 decision at Mile High Stadium on Nov. 7, 1971.
Fox has never lost in four career encounters with the Lions as a head coach, with each of those games taking place during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-10. Schwartz will be opposing both the Broncos and Fox for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Detroit is outscoring its opposition by a 128-42 margin after halftime, and in the second half and overtime of games, Stafford ranks second in the NFL with a 111.0 rating, having completed 80-of-130 (61.5 percent) passes for 998 yards and 10 touchdowns. In three career home starts against the AFC, he has passed for 956 yards with 11 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 105.0 passer rating. Running back Jahvid Best is one of two players in the NFC with at least 350-plus rushing yards (390), 250-plus receiving yards (287), two rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown, but won't play for a second straight week due to a concussion. Backup Maurice Morris has three rushing touchdowns in his past three games against the AFC, however. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 10 touchdown catches and is the first player in club history with three season of 10-plus scoring grabs, having garnered 12 in 2008 and 2010. He is also the second player since 1970 with 10 receiving touchdowns in a team's first seven games to start a season, joining Randy Moss. Since the start of 2008, Johnson has 39 receiving touchdowns, the most in the NFL. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew ranks second among NFL players at his position with 38 receptions, while wide receiver Titus Young is third among NFC rookies with 209 receiving yards (15 catches, 13.9 average).
For the Broncos, rookie linebacker Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in last April's draft, aims for a sixth consecutive game with a sack and ranks first in the NFL among rookies with six sacks on the season. Linebacker D.J. Williams, meanwhile, seeks a third straight game with a sack and recorded one in overtime of last week's win that set up the deciding 52-yard field goal from Matt Prater, as Williams forced a fumble and recovered it on the play. Safety Brian Dawkins tied a career-high with two sacks last week and now has 25 for his career.
Detroit is sixth in the league in points scored (27.7 ppg), 13th in total offense (353.0 ypg), 11th in passing yards (260.3 ypg) and 27th in rushing yards (92.7 ypg). The Broncos are 29th in the league in scoring defense (25.8 ppg), 21st in total yards allowed (366.0 ypg), 19th in pass defense (247.5 ypg) and 18th in run defense (118.5 ypg).
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
In the fourth quarter of his past two games, Tebow has completed 13-of-26 passes (50 percent) for 216 yards, three touchdowns and a 116.8 quarterback rating. He averaged 8.1 yards per carry (eight attempts, 65 yards) last week as well. Running back Knowshon Moreno has three rushing touchdowns in his past three games against the NFC at home, while wide receiver Eric Decker has four touchdown receptions in his past five games. Young wideout Demaryius Thomas had a five-yard touchdown reception in his season debut last week, while tight end Daniel Fells has a touchdown catch in two of his past three games.
The Lions defense ranks second in the NFC in allowing 4.89 yards per first-down play. Safety Amari Spievey is tied for the team lead with a career-high three interceptions and aims for a third consecutive game with a pick. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch has 17 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles on the season, while middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch has 44 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
Denver is in the lower tier offensively, placing 21st in scoring (20.5 ppg), 25th in total yards (304.3 ypg), 26th in passing yards (190.0 ypg) and 16th in rushing yards (114.3 ypg). The Lions are seventh in scoring defense (19.6 ppg), 10th in total yards allowed (334.0 ypg), ninth in pass defense (204.6 ypg) and 28th against the run (129.4 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Exactly who will be healthy and available for the Lions at quarterback will likely shape their offensive output against a Denver defense that's in the lower third of the league in all statistical categories.
Tebow was bad for nearly a full game against a winless team and now faces a stiff challenge with a playoff contender that's a top-10 force against the pass. He'll need to be more consistent this week to lead the Broncos to a second straight win.
As mentioned earlier, this is the first stretch of adversity in several months for the Lions, who were streaking to end 2010 and swept through the preseason before starting 5-0. How they'll handle it is a mystery.
Though the Lions are new to the NFL's elite and could be vulnerable to the challenge of a road game following a disappointing two-game home slump, this simply doesn't look like the right foe to prolong the agony. Expect Detroit's talented defensive line to give a still-green Tebow fits and avoid the late- game rallying scenario the Dolphins allowed to occur.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 30, Broncos 10
10/27 18:40:14 ET