NFL Preview - Kansas City (4-10) at Detroit (6-8)
By Tony Moss, Sports Network
The Sports Network
When the Lions and Chiefs last tasted victory, it was a whole lot warmer in both Detroit and Kansas City.
Feel free to take that literally or figuratively.
For the Lions, who will welcome the Chiefs to Ford Field for the first time on Sunday, the date was Nov. 4, when Rod Marinelli and company destroyed Denver, 44-7, to put the finishing touches on a 6-2 first-half. That win was supposed to have established the Lions as a legitimate contender in the NFC North, but the team's subsequent six-game losing streak has washed away all the good feeling built up during the first eight contests.
Last Sunday, Detroit went to San Diego and was handed a 51-14 thrashing, a loss that officially erased the Lions from the playoff picture.
This week, the team will be trying to both end the skid and give the organization a chance at avoiding what would be a seventh consecutive losing season.
As bad as it has been for the Lions, the Chiefs have had things worse.
Kansas City has lost seven in a row since beating the Raiders to move to 4-3 way back on Oct. 21st, clinching the proud franchise's second double-digit- loss season in the last 18 years.
The seven-game skid is the longest since the Chiefs dropped nine in a row in 1987, though three of those defeats were earned largely by replacement players during a strike year.
Kansas City has now matched its longest losing streak in a non-strike year, with the previous seven-game skein coming in 1985.
Only the Baltimore Ravens, who have lost eight in a row, have a current losing streak longer than that of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs have a 7-3 edge in their all-time series with the Lions, and have won four in a row against Detroit since the Lions scored a 7-6 win at Arrowhead Stadium in 1988. Kansas City was a 45-17 home winner when the clubs last met, in 2003, and took a 28-24 decision when it last visited Detroit, in 1996. The Lions last won a home game in the series in 1981.
Kansas City head coach Herm Edwards is 1-0 in his career against the Detroit, with that win coming for his New York Jets on the road in 2002. The Lions' Marinelli, who once served on the same staff as Edwards in Tampa Bay, will be meeting both his former co-worker and the Chiefs for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
There is hope in Kansas City that running back Larry Johnson (559 rushing yards, 30 receptions, 4 TD), who has missed the last six weeks with a foot injury, can make his return to the lineup on Sunday. Johnson did appear in practice this week, though he suffered an apparent setback on Wednesday and is a major question mark to be active on Sunday. If he can't go, rookie Kolby Smith (346 rushing yards, 2 TD, 14 receptions) will again carry the load for the league's 30th-ranked rushing offense (80.9 yards per game). Smith carried 18 times for 82 yards in last week's loss to the Titans.
Meanwhile, quarterback Brodie Croyle (963 passing yards, 5 TD, 5 INT) will take his fifth crack at win number one as an NFL starter. Croyle established career-highs for completions (25), attempts (43), yards (217), and TD passes (2) last week, but also threw a pair of interceptions in the loss. Wideout Samie Parker (20 receptions, 2 TD) and fullback Kris Wilson (21 receptions, 1 TD) were the recipients of the Croyle's TDs, and top Kansas City targets Dwayne Bowe (61 receptions, 4 TD) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (82 receptions, 5 TD) combined for eight catches and 81 yards in the game.
A paper-thin Chiefs line has allowed a bloated 48 sacks on the year, but did not surrender one last week.
Following last week's 51-point meltdown in San Diego, Detroit enters Sunday's game ranked last in the league in scoring defense (27.9 points per game) and touchdowns allowed (49), and is tied for last in passing TDs allowed (27) along with Cleveland. The biggest problem for the Lions came on the ground, where the Chargers amassed a whopping 274 yards and four touchdowns on the day. Tackles Shaun Rogers (31 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Cory Redding (29 tackles) have not provided a presence at the point of attack in recent weeks, and linebackers Ernie Sims (122 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack) and Paris Lenon (104 tackles, 2 sacks) have missed their share of tackles as well.
Last week, safeties Gerald Alexander (71 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) and Kenoy Kennedy (75 tackles, 2 INT) combined for 26 stops, a major indicator of how often the Chargers were breaking through the first two lines of the Detroit defense. The Lions pass defense didn't have it as rough, but did not manage a sack nor an interception of San Diego QB Philip Rivers. Cornerbacks Travis Fisher (71 tackles, 2 INT) and Fernando Bryant (65 tackles, 2 INT) have not exactly distinguished themselves with their play this season, and end Dewayne White (38 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT) has cooled off after a strong start to 2007. Bryant (quadriceps) is questionable for Sunday.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna (3707 passing yards, 17 TD, 17 INT) will be looking to rebound from a miserable day in San Diego last week, a game that saw him throw a whopping five interceptions to help enable the 37-point blowout. Kitna did throw for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the game, but has now thrown just five TDs versus nine picks in his last five contests combined. Shaun McDonald (72 receptions, 5 TD), Calvin Johnson (42 receptions, 4 TD), and Mike Furrey (55 receptions, 1 TD) are Kitna's top targets in the absence of Roy Williams, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury earlier this week.
McDonald scored one of two Lions' touchdowns last week, Johnson went over 100 yards for the first time in his career, and Furrey had a team-best seven catches totaling eight yards. The hot-and-cold Detroit running game was barely a factor last week, as Kevin Jones (566 rushing yards, 8 TD, 32 receptions) and T.J. Duckett (204 rushing yards, 2 TD) combined for nine rushes and 26 yards on a day in which the Lions were forced to throw on nearly every down due to their sizeable deficit. Detroit has given up a league-high 52 sacks on the year, but only one has come in the past two weeks combined.
Kitna and the Lions attack will be facing a Kansas City defense that ranks eighth in the league against the pass (198.9 yards per game), but has shown some flaws in that area over the past few weeks. One Sunday after allowing a career-best four touchdown passes to Denver's Jay Cutler, the Chiefs watched as Tennessee's Vince Young hooked up with Roydell Williams for a pair of touchdown strikes, including a momentum-changing 41-yarder to put the Titans ahead to stay in the third quarter.
The key to the Kansas City defense is the ability of end Jared Allen (58 tackles, 11.5 sacks) to get to the quarterback, which he has not done in the last two weeks. On the back end, cornerbacks Ty Law (43 tackles, 2 INT) and Patrick Surtain (53 tackles, 2 INT) will likely match up with Johnson and McDonald, with safeties Jarrad Page (55 tackles, 3 INT) and Bernard Pollard (73 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) lending support. The Chiefs are a disappointing 26th in the league against the run this year (125.2 yards per game), and allowed the Titans to churn up 148 yards on the ground last Sunday. Linebackers Donnie Edwards (98 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), Napoleon Harris (92 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), and Derrick Johnson (86 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT) have been the team's most consistent tacklers this year.
After a promising start to the fantasy season, Kitna's production has dropped off dramatically, with the breaking point coming in last week's five-pick meltdown in Kansas City. He won't be that bad this week, but remains a very risky start. Of the Lions' receivers, McDonald is probably the most reliable play, and Calvin Johnson could produce some points as well. Kevin Jones is risky, as is a Lions defense that has suddenly stopped making big plays.
It doesn't seem likely that Larry Johnson will play, and if he doesn't, think seriously about starting Kolby Smith against a Lions front seven that had no clue against the San Diego run last Sunday. Gonzalez is also a must-start, and Bowe is OK as a No. 2 or flex option.
The Lions are very much in free fall, though if you go back and look at their last five losses, it's hard to find anything truly shameful. Three of those defeats came to division winners Green Bay, Dallas, and San Diego, and the other two were to probable playoff participants the Giants and Minnesota. Detroit isn't quite there yet in terms of being a contender, but it does have some talent and is capable of knocking out an inferior opponent like the Chiefs. Kansas City has been far less competitive than Detroit over the past two months, and there's no logical reason to expect them to suddenly put forth an inspired effort this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 27, Chiefs 13