Two years ago, the Detroit Lions went winless on the road in Dan Campbell’s first season as the club’s head coach.
The Lions went 0-8-1 away from Michigan in 2021 and went on to finish 3-13-1 overall.
It’s safe to say that plenty has changed over the course of two years.
This year’s Detroit squad sits comfortably atop the NFC North at 5-1 and will look to improve to 4-0 on the road when it visits the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
Dating back to last season, the Lions have won 13 of their last 16 games and have emerged not just as a pleasant surprise but as a bona fide contender in the NFC, especially given the fact that Detroit has the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league with a .385 opponent win percentage.
Our projections give the Lions an NFC-best 70.9% chance of winning their division over the under .500 Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
Coming off a 20-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, the Lions will face a step up in competition. The Ravens sit alone atop the competitive AFC North at 4-2 after last weekend’s 24-16 win over the Tennessee Titans in London.
While our projections still favor the Cleveland Browns with a 40.0% chance of winning the AFC North, the Ravens are close behind at 34.9%.
While this game may not be a classic rivalry matchup or intra-divisional showdown (SmartRatings only gives it a 48), it could be a pivot point for either of these championship-aspiring teams.
Oddsmakers have agreed that the Ravens are favorites by about a Justin Tucker field goal in this one and our projections follow suit, giving Baltimore the slight edge with a 54.7% chance of a home victory.
Sportsbooks have projected the total for this game at a modest 43.5, a nod to two of the better defenses in the league. And we have the under as the best bet with the total coming in around 41.
The underdog Lions enter this matchup with some key developments on the injury report, especially in the offensive backfield. Leading rusher David Montgomery, who is tied for fourth in the league with six rushing touchdowns, is expected to be sidelined with a rib injury.
The good news is that first-round rookie Jahmyr Gibbs has recovered from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the previous two games and looks to have a prominent role in this NFL Week 7.
After Gibbs was selected 12th overall in April’s draft, expectations soared. And while Gibbs has been used in a limited role so far, he has been effective when given chances. His 2.72 average yards after contact ranks fourth among running backs with at least 25 carries, and he has added 14 receptions for 70 yards.
But Gibbs, listed at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, is not accustomed to a full workload and may still be feeling rusty after his hamstring injury, an issue Campbell addressed during Friday’s press conference.
“Certainly, I think he’s going to need to take the load of it,” Campbell said. “We’re just going to have to see where he’s at. I’d like to say we want to be careful with him, but the reality of it is, we need him. So, we’ll go as far as he can take us here — trying to be as smart as we can.
“But, he’s got to go. He’s ready.”
Given Gibbs’ health and Montgomery’s absence, the Lions’ fortunes may fall squarely on the shoulders of Jared Goff.
Just over two years ago, Goff was an afterthought in the trade that sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions went 3-13-1 in Goff’s first season in Detroit, and he watched his former teammates hoist the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LVI.
Goff has gradually repaired his reputation around the league and is now enjoying a career year, on pace for a personal-best 105.1 passer rating.
The former first-overall pick has been precise and efficient this season, and his 79.5% expected completion rate ranks second among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts this season. What’s more impressive is that Goff, once considered a system product or game manager, has been excellent at throwing the deep ball this season.
Passer Rating on Attempts 21+ Air Yards
- Detroit Lions (151.4)
- Houston Texans (145.0)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (135.4)
- San Francisco 49ers (127.1)
- Denver Broncos (116.7)
Goff has 13 completions of 25 passing yards or more this season, tied for fourth in the league. Josh Reynolds leads the team with four of those, while tight end Sam LaPorta and star wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown have three apiece.
Taking big swings in the passing game, however, can be dangerous against a Ravens defense that is allowing a passer rating of just 31.1 on deep throws.
Opponent Passer Rating on Attempts 21+ Air Yards
- New York Jets (0.0)
- New Orleans Saints (22.1)
- Baltimore Ravens (31.1)
- Cleveland Browns (53.6)
- Los Angeles Rams (57.8)
Of course, quarterbacks can only let the deep ball loose if they have enough time to throw, and pass protection should be a key indicator for this game.
Key Matchup: Goff vs. Baltimore’s Pass Rush
The Lions have allowed sacks on 4.4% of drop backs this season, the fifth-lowest rate in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s defense is tied for the league lead with 24 sacks and has a top-10 pressure rate, harassing opposing quarterbacks on 38.9% of drop backs.
Baltimore, which bounced back from a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers by beating the Tennessee Titans last weekend, has accomplished this without a superstar edge defender. Eleven different Ravens defenders have recorded at least one sack – the most in the NFL.
Most Players With At Least One Sack
- 1. Baltimore Ravens (11)
- T-2. Detroit Lions (10)
- T-2. Seattle Seahawks (10)
- T-4. Arizona Cardinals (9)
- T-4. Indianapolis Colts (9)
If Detroit’s offensive line is unable to hold off the pass rush, Goff could be asked to deliver throws under pressure, something he has done well at so far this season.
Goff ranks second among qualified quarterbacks with a 73.0% expected completion rate while under pressure, and 78.6% of his pressured throws have been on-target – fifth in the league.
Goff’s release time of 3.01 seconds while under pressure is faster than the league average, and 82.1% of his throws under pressure are to open receivers, indicating that the eighth-year veteran is able to quickly identify an outlet.
Another key matchup in this game will come when the Lions have the ball in the red zone.
Detroit has been about league average in red zone scoring rate (85.7%) and red zone touchdown rate (57.1%) but may need to be much better against a Baltimore defense that stiffens near the goal line.
The Ravens have held opponents to a 21.6% success rate while in the red zone and a 14.7% success rate on red zone passing plays – league bests in both categories.
If they hope to start the season 6-1 for the first time since 1956, Goff and the Lions offense will need to convert red zone trips into touchdowns.
Opponent Yards Per Play in Red Zone
- Baltimore Ravens (.98)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1.19)
- New York Jets (1.74)
- Buffalo Bills (1.81)
- New Orleans Saints (1.86)
When the Ravens have the ball, the ground game will take center stage.
Baltimore calls designed run plays on a league-high 51.0% of snaps in the first half and ranks fifth with 144.8 rushing yards per game.
Aided by 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability, the Ravens have been able to gain yards in chunks on the ground.
Rushing Plays of 10+ Yards
- 1. Miami Dolphins (30)
- 2. Baltimore Ravens (29)
- 3. Chicago Bears (25)
- T-4. Kansas City Chiefs (24)
- T-4. San Francisco 49ers (24)
Rushing against Detroit, however, has been no easy task this year.
The Lions have allowed a league-low 64.7 rushing yards per game this season and are giving up 3.26 yards per carry (second lowest).
Opponent Rushing Plays of 10+ Yards
- 1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6)
- T-2. Detroit Lions (7)
- T-2. Philadelphia Eagles (7)
- 4. Seattle Seahawks (9)
- 5. San Francisco 49ers (10)
Baltimore’s passing game has been efficient this season but mostly methodical. Jackson has thrown the fourth-most screen passes (26) this year and he especially like to throw them to rookie receiver Zay Flowers.
The result has been a passing offense that is tied for 21st in the league with eight completions of 25 yards or more but ranks fifth in passing play success rate at 44.0%.
The Ravens are at their best when they can mix the run and pass on long drives, but that rhythm has been disrupted at times this season by turnovers.
Baltimore has nine turnovers already this season, and three of Jackson’s four lost fumbles have come in losses.
While protecting the ball is important for any team, the Ravens lack the quick-strike offense necessary to win a high-turnover game, and ball security will be key against a Detroit defense that has six interceptions in six games and will have rookie standout cornerback Brian Branch back from an ankle injury.