Two weeks ago, this game was considered must-see television. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos coming to town for a matchup with an up-and-coming Lions team with unlimited offensive firepower. But as of Wednesday, there were still tickets available for the Detroit season home opener, likely due in part to a 0-2 record where the Lions have looked completely inept on both sides of the football.
Lions’ players and coaches continue to insist the season is a marathon and not a race, but with the Seahawks and Cardinals still on the horizon following this Week 3 matchup with a 2-0 Broncos team, Detroit is already in a must-win situation.
Denver at Detroit
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Broncos -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Rodney Harrison talks Matthew Stafford
The "Sunday Night Football" analyst did not back down from his comments this week after saying the Lions’ quarterback does not have much respect around the locker room following a late hit from Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. “This is a cheap shot right here, and nobody comes to his defense except a rookie lineman,” Harrison stated on the telecast. “This is crazy. This just shows me how much respect this team has for Matthew Stafford. Not a lot.” Harrison reiterated his point again this week on Pro Football Talk, posing the question “do you think the Patriots would let this happen or the Indianapolis Colts or the Denver Broncos to Peyton Manning? Never, not on his sideline.” This topic will surely come up again for what should make for some interesting pre-game discussion.
2. Protection Issues
Both teams are struggling mightily to keep their quarterbacks upright to start the season. Stafford has been bruised and battered in the first two weeks, and despite being listed as Probable vs. Denver, the Lions' quarterback is likely to be playing with sore ribs. Quick passes may be the name of the game for Detroit to protect its starting quarterback. On the flipside, the Broncos are tied for fourth in sacks allowed with seven. The presence of a rushing attack would ease some of that pressure, but the Broncos have averaged just 2.8 yards per attempt. Whichever team keeps its quarterback the cleanest will likely come out on top.
3. Autograph session
On Sunday, Detroit cornerback Darius Slay will get his first opportunity to go against one of his favorite quarterbacks while growing up, Peyton Manning. And if he is fortunate enough to get an interception, the third-year pro will not hesitate to ask for an autograph from the future Hall-of-Famer. "I'm letting him know now, if I get a pick from him, he's got to sign that," Slay told the Detroit Free Press earlier this week. "He's got to sign that. I got to have that. He got a signature right then on the spot. I'm going to have the pen in my pocket.”
This game may just come down to which offensive line can hold up the longest. If the offensive line concerns on both sides are a wash, then the determining factor may be which defense can generate a pass rush on the opposing quarterback. Give me the Von Miller/DeMarcus Ware combination in that battle. The Lions will keep it close early on with a boost from the crowd in the home opener, but they are clearly not the same team from a year ago and will fall to 0-3.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Lions 20
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.