Matthew Stafford has always been a sneaky-good quarterback when the game is on the line. Now, it seems as though he’s finally making the jump from fantasy MVP to NFL elite.
The eighth-year veteran is in the middle of his most efficient season as a professional, paying off the faith the Detroit Lions put in him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. His 105.7 passer rating is the highest of his career and his 1.7 percent interception rate is on pace to be his lowest over the course of a full season. That rising level of play has pulled the Lions out of a 1-3 hole with three straight victories and a spot in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
Stafford’s skill was on full display in Week 7. A 19-yard Kirk Cousins touchdown run put the Lions down 17-13 with only 65 seconds to play, but the former University of Georgia standout rallied his team for a game-winning drive in which he accounted for all 75 yards of Detroit’s offense.
His next-level passing has turned Marvin Jones from an afterthought in Cincinnati’s passing attack to one of the league’s most explosive aerial threats. The former Bengal ranks fifth in the league with 623 receiving yards and a stellar 18.9 yards per catch average.
Stafford’s hot streak may slow to a simmer on Sunday. The Houston Texans have struggled to force turnovers through the air but a secondary led by Johnathan Joseph and Andre Hal has limited opposing quarterbacks to just an 81.4 passer rating this fall. The Texans have emerged as one of the league’s top 10 passing defenses in 2016. They’ll need to keep playing at that level to prop up an offense that bottomed out last week against Denver.
Brock Osweiler, the team’s prized free agent pickup this past offseason, completed only 22 of 41 passes for just 131 yards in a 27-9 loss to the Broncos on Monday night. The young passer barely crested 3 yards per pass attempt as Houston dropped to 4-3 but remained atop a weak AFC South division. The Texans control their own destiny on the road to a playoff berth, but an awful -37 point differential suggests their winning record is unsustainable.
Houston is 1-3 against teams with winning records this fall, beating an unsteady Kansas City Chiefs team before losses to the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, and Denver. Those teams have been able to extinguish the Texans’ offense — Houston has scored only 10.3 points per game against plus-.500 teams. In the team’s three wins against losing competition, that number jumps to 25.3.
Detroit’s defense hasn’t been especially inspiring this season. The Lions have given up 23 points or more in the majority of their games. However, Houston signed zero signs of life in last week’s loss to Denver. The Texans will have to find a new gear on Sunday to fend off a surging Detroit team.
How to watch Detroit Lions vs. Houston Texans
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Place: NRG Stadium, Houston
Announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale
Online: Sunday Ticket, Fox Sports GO