The Detroit Lions are looking to make it two wins in a row today as they square off against the Broncos in Denver. For Denver, today's matchup is an important one as they try to keep pace in the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos are 6-6 and a game out of the last playoff spot in the AFC. Their players talked all week about treating today's game like a playoff game. The Lions will try to play spoiler for a second straight week.
Here are five things to watch out for in this one later today:
1. FLU BUG
The flu took hold in the Lions locker room this week and it significantly altered the team's preparation. Head coach Dan Campbell had nine players listed on the injury report with illness, but also made the decision to hold out a number of other players from practice to limit exposure. Thursday's practice report looked like a grocery list with 22 players on it.
The hope is the Lions are on the tail end of the illness and it won't affect them too badly today. Of course playing in the elevation of Denver isn't ideal for some of these players who were sick this week or missed practice. Could conditioning become an issue?
2. STAY HOT
Quarterback Jared Goff was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns in leading Detroit to a walk-off win over the Vikings last Sunday.
Goff pressed the ball down the field more than we've seen all year, and guys made plays for him. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Goff is a trust quarterback, and right now he has a lot of trust to throw the ball down the field because pass catchers are making plays for him. Lynn said he expects that to continue today against a really good Broncos' defense.
Goff's got five touchdowns and a passer rating north of 100.0 the last two weeks. Can he stay hot?
3. DYNAMIC DUO
Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams have formed a nice running back tandem for Denver, with each having rushed for more than 600 yards on the season. Williams is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and Gordon is averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
"I feel like everybody has backs now," Campbell said this week. "But these guys, yes, they can hurt you and they are dynamic."
The Broncos are averaging 118.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks in the top 12 in the NFL. Detroit's been up and down stopping the run on defense this season. They currently rank 28th against the run, allowing on average 131.0 yards on the ground per game.
Detroit has to be very sound upfront and with their linebackers in the run game today, and really rally to the football. Gordon and Williams lead the NFL in broken tackles as a duo.
4. REPLACING HOCKENSON AND SWIFT
It was a little unsettling to see tight end T.J. Hockenson show up on the injury report and miss practice time this week after suffering a hand injury. Hockenson downplayed the injury Thursday while talking to the media, but it turns out it's more serious than Hockenson let on because he was listed as doubtful to play today.
The Lions were already going be without dynamic playmaker D’Andre Swift for a second consecutive contest as he continues to rehab a shoulder injury. Hockenson entered this week leading the team in targets (84), receptions (61), receiving yards (583) and receiving touchdowns (4).
Expect Brock Wright, who caught a touchdown pass last week, to fill in for Hockenson at tight end, and for hybrid fullback/tight end Jason Cabinda to be in the mix there too.
Veteran running back Jamaal Williams, who was expected to carry most of the load in place of Swift, was placed on Reserve/COVID-19 Friday. Running backs Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike will need to step up.
It's certainly not an ideal situation for the Lions' offense to be in without their two best offensive weapons today against a Denver defense that ranks eighth in the league in total defense and third in scoring defense.
Campbell always preaches next man up, and that will certainly have to be the case offensively for Detroit in this one.
5. UNSEASONABLE WEATHER
So much for the potential of a snow game in Denver in December.
Weather will not play a factor in today's outcome as the forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with a high of 59 degrees and winds pretty light at 5-to-10 miles per hour.
The Denver area got a little dusting of snow on Friday, but that's long gone with temperatures in the high 40s on Saturday and temps increasing into the 50s today.
Cold, rain, snow or wind can have a significant impact on a game plan, as we saw for Detroit last month in games in Pittsburgh and Cleveland, but that won't be the case today.