Now the top seed in the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers will look to push their winning streak to three games Sunday night as they take on the Detroit Lions. With their AFC fate in their own hands, the Steelers will head to Ford Field in hopes of extending their lead before their bye week. And while the Steelers may be the odds-on favorite on paper, here are some other numbers that are shaping Sunday’s contest.
In their last nine matchups against the Lions, the Steelers are an impressive 8-1 with their last loss coming on Thursday, November 26 1998. You may also remember this game as the infamous Thanksgiving coin flip game with former Steelers’ running back Jerome Bettis. Since then the Steelers have won the last four matchups, carrying an average margin of victory of 16.25 points.
The Steelers are 3-0 this season when JuJu Smith-Schuster scores a touchdown. And after a wild week in which Smith-Schuster has seen himself placed in the concussion protocol, called out by a teammate and had his bike stolen, the rookie wide receiver could be in store for a big week. That is of course because of the benching of Martavis Bryant after the receiver ranted on social media about his displeasure with how he’s being used. Smith-Schuster has also been a valuable asset on third down, converting four of his five third down receptions into first downs. With his first undisputed shot at the second receiving spot on the horizon, Smith-Schuster could be in store for a huge game Sunday night.
The Lions are averaging 16.5 points in the second half of games this season, the second highest mark in the NFL. The Steelers’ defense, who have allowed an average of just 8.4 points during the second half this season, will be in for a challenge as they take on the Lions’ resilient offense. The Lions second half firepower was on full display two Sundays ago as they scored 28 second half points against the New Orleans Saints. The Lions flashed their versatility, scoring on offense, defense and special teams last Sunday in order to narrow the Saints’ lead. The Lions’ second half heroics will be one to keep an eye on against a stout Steelers defense.
The Lions have converted 60 percent of their red zone possessions into touchdowns, tied for the fifth highest conversion rate in the NFL this season. This spells trouble for a Steelers’ defense that has struggled defending the red zone this season, allowing a touchdown on just over 62 percent of their opponent’s red zone possessions. The biggest challenge for the Steelers’ red zone defense will be defending quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has thrown six touchdowns to zero interceptions this year in the red zone.
The Lions live or die on the play of their quarterback as their win or loss record is ultimately decided on Stafford’s ability to break a 100.0 passer rating. Since 2015, the Lions are an impressive 12-4 when Stafford posts a passer rating of 100.0 or higher. In this same time span, the Lions are an abysmal 7-15 when Stafford is unable to reach a 100.0 passer rating. This Sunday, Stafford will go up against the Steelers’ #1 ranked pass defense who have not allowed a 100 passer rating to an opposing quarterback yet this season.