Through three games, the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets have fielded the top two defenses in the NFL, and there are some eerie similarities between the two squads. For one, both are relatively strong defending the pass and the rush. The Lions are ranked third against the pass and second versus the run, while New York is ninth and first, respectively. Both have formidable pass rushes, with the Jets slightly ahead with 10 sacks, compared to eight for Detroit.
Going deeper, the Lions have allowed only 50 first downs, good for first in the NFL, and New York is right behind with 53. The Lions have been far better in third-down situations, surrendering 10 third-down conversions in contrast to the Jets' 17. Strange enough, neither defense has had to force turnovers to be effective. The Lions have totaled three takeaways and the Jets two, both in the bottom third of the NFL.
But no matter how immovable either defense has appeared, one will have to budge during Sunday afternoon’s matchup at MetLife Stadium in Jersey.
The Lions defense faced its stiffest challenge of the season so far, and shut down quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the rival Green Bay Packers for a 19-7 victory. Holding the typically mighty Green Bay offense to 223 total yards, Detroit earned just their second victory over their NFC North rival since 2008.
Impressively, the Lions were also able to overcome three costly turnovers, lowlighted by quarterback Matthew Stafford’s two interceptions. Stafford went 22-for-34 for 246 yards and could lead only two successful scoring drives, with one capped by a 26-yard touchdown sprint by running back Reggie Bush.
All told the turnovers bumped Detroit’s total to five on the season, and more mistakes could allow the Jets No. 2 ranked rushing attack to take control early and cut Stafford’s time with top receiver Calvin Johnson short.
Johnson is fourth in the NFL with 329 receiving yards, and on pace for another 1,000-yard season, but he’s currently listed as questionable after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday due to an ankle injury.
The Jets are guilty of an equal number of blunders, with four of their five giveaways a result of poor decision making from second-year quarterback Geno Smith. In their 27-19 Monday night loss to Chicago, Smith completed 26 of his 43 pass attempts for 316 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Forced to bury his team out of a 14-point first quarter deficit, Smith set new career-highs in attempts and yards but the Jets went 1-for-6 in the red zone.
Detroit will look to kick-start its 25 th ranked rushing attack, and likely received a boost of confidence with leading rusher Joique Bell returning to practice Thursday after enduring a knee injury. Bell and Bush have combined for 222 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, but neither is averaging more than 3.8 yards per carry. They’ll take on a Jets frontline that hasn’t let up a single rushing touchdown this year, one of only three teams in the NFL to do so.
Meanwhile N.Y. does have two worrisome injuries. It’s already thin secondary could miss second-year cornerback Dee Milliner who’s listed as doubtful due to a quadriceps injury. Milliner’s could miss his third game of the season and his absence leaves the Jets shy of an extra defensive back to throw at Johnson (should he play) or fellow Lions receiver Golden Tate. The Jets have already given up seven passing touchdowns this season.
Leading Jets receiver Eric Decker also missed two straight days of practice because of a hamstring injury, and was a limited participant on Friday. He’s listed as questionable.
Kick-off is at 1 p.m. EST and FOX will provide live television coverage. The Lions are 2 point favorites and the over/under is set at 45 points, according to Bovada.lv.
Prediction: Detroit 17, New York 10