‘Monday Night Football’ tonight: Streaming, TV, why the Lions will edge Packers
I’m a Bears fan, and even I miss Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has broken my heart more times than a girl ever could, and I still miss watching him shred defenses with mind-bending throws on a weekly basis. He’s the league’s most talented quarterback, and the NFL is worse without him. In a season featuring not enough good teams and too many injuries, Rodgers’ absence hurts even more.
The NFL’s Rodgers-less problem is going to be exacerbated on Monday night when the Packers (4-3) host the Lions (3-4) on Week 9’s edition of “Monday Night Football.” Instead of getting a matchup between the league’s most-talented quarterback in Rodgers and a top-tier-ish quarterback in Matthew Stafford, we’ll be forced to watch Brett Hundley and what will probably be a run-focused offense take on the slumping Lions, who’ve lost three straight.
Of course, Rodgers’ absence is a bigger problem for the Packers than it is for the league. Without their quarterback, the Packers are no longer a Super Bowl contender, but instead a floundering fish on the sand waiting for the tide to return and save them. By the time Rodgers is able to play again — the Packers are reportedly hoping he’s able to return on Dec. 17 (Week 15) — the Packers’ playoff hopes might be dead already. They’re 4-3 and still have at least six more games without Rodgers. Their run with Hundley continues on Monday night, and I don’t see it going well.
I’m taking the Lions in this game primarily because of Rodgers’ absence. Rodgers covers up so many of the Packers’ warts. He can’t do that on the sideline. Not only do the Lions boast the better quarterback in this matchup, they also own the better defense and special teams. That’s why I’m picking the Lions.
The prediction: Lions 24, Packers 17
My “MNF” prediction record: 6-2
How to watch, stream
- When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET
- Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay
- TV: ESPN
- Streaming: WatchESPN
Note: All stats/rankings are accurate entering Sunday’s Week 9 slate of games.
Lions hold the QB advantage
The Lions have the better quarterback with Rodgers injured. So far this season — after signing the most lucrative NFL deal ever in August — Stafford’s numbers have been right around what we’ve come to expect out of him. He’s completed 60.4 percent of his passes, averaged 6.9 yards per attempt, thrown 12 touchdowns and four interceptions, and posted an 89.6 passer rating. He continues to be a solid, but not great quarterback.
And that’s better than what we can say about Hundley, who was thrust into the starting role when Rodgers went down. In three games (one start), Hundley — a once-hyped prospect at UCLA who’s been with the Packers since 2015 — has completed 52.5 percent of his passes, averaged 4.1 yards per pass, thrown one touchdown and four picks, and posted a 40.5 passer rating. It hasn’t gone well.
He’s been bad both under pressure and not under pressure, posting a 56.3 passer rating under pressure and a 28.9 passer rating without pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. On passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield, he’s gone 1 of 7 for 26 yards, a pick, and a 3.0 passer rating, according to PFF. Off play-action, he’s accumulated the second-worst passer rating (33.1). Only Tyreek Hill — the Chiefs‘ wide receiver — has been worse, per PFF.
Obviously, we’re dealing with small sample sizes. Obviously, Hundley can improve as he acquires more experience in the NFL. Obviously, play-calling and his supporting staff deserve to be blamed along with him. This is not a knock on Hundley, who’s never been asked to be a starter before, but the Lions are probably going to win this game because they have a starting-caliber quarterback and the Packers do not. It’s really that simple. Plus, Packers tight end Martellus Bennett is doubtful, which means Hundley will likely be without his security blanket.
It’s worth noting that Stafford usually plays well in Green Bay. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Stafford has averaged 315 yards per game and totaled 15 passing touchdowns and five picks in six games at Lambeau Field. Still, he’s gone 1-5 in those games. Rodgers being gone will help him improve that record.
Aaron Jones needs to carry the Packers
To have a chance in this game, the Packers need their rookie running back, Aaron Jones, to carry their offense. Since wrestling the starting job away from Ty Montgomery in Week 4, Jones has electrified the Packers’ running game. In the three games since, he’s averaging 6.06 yards per carry and 99 yards per game. He’s played in four total games. If he kept up his current pace over a 16-game season, he’d reach 1,384 rushing yards. According to PFF, he’s been just about as elusive (in terms of missed tackles) as Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon.
He needs to have a productive outing for the Packers to have a shot against the Lions. But it won’t be easy to get the ground game going against a Lions defense that is flying under the radar.
Don’t sleep on the Lions’ defense
The Lions’ defense is allowing 3.6 yards per carry (the fourth-lowest in football) and 91.6 rushing yards per game (the sixth-lowest in football). By DVOA, they’re ranked fifth against the run. So running on them won’t be easy.
They are, however, more susceptible against the pass. They allow the seventh-most passing yards per game (254.6) and the fourth-most passing yards per attempt (7.9). But it’s worth noting that the Lions’ pass defense isn’t as bad as those rankings suggest. By DVOA, they’re ranked eighth against the pass. Perhaps more importantly, they’ve snagged 10 interceptions. Only two teams have more to this point.
I’m also taking the Lions to win because they boast the better defense. Overall, they’re ranked seventh in DVOA and are tied for the second-most takeaways with 16. The Packers’ defense, meanwhile, is ranked 19th in DVOA. If Stafford can take care of the ball, the Lions should be fine against a mediocre at best defense.
The red zone
One area the Lions need to improve in is the red zone. In a 20-15 loss to the Steelers a week ago, Stafford threw for 423 yards and the Lions outplayed the Steelers in nearly every aspect of the game. But they lost because they failed to reach the end zone. The Lions went 0 for 5 in the red zone. So far this season, they’re 27th in red zone offense by scoring a touchdown on only 45 percent of their red zone trips, according to TeamRankings.com.
The Lions can’t keep kicking field goals. If they’re forced to settle for three points, they’ll let the Packers hang around in a game they shouldn’t win.
Special teams matter
With that being said, let’s give Matt Prater and the rest of the Lions’ special teams credit. By DVOA, they’re the best special teams unit in football. Prater is 15 of 17 on field goals and perfect on his extra points. He’s 5 of 7 from 50-plus yards. Meanwhile, the Packers’ special teams unit is ranked 14th in DVOA. Their kicker, Mason Crosby, is 7 of 8 on field goals and 17 of 19 on extra points. He’s yet to make a kick from 50-plus yards.
If it’s a close game, give the edge to the Lions, their stud kicker, and their quarterback, who happens to have quite the history of winning nailbiters.
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