The Detroit Lions host the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving Day for the second time in franchise history. The last time was during the 1994 season, as a veteran Bills squad looked to qualify for its fifth consecutive Super Bowl. In that game, quarterback Jim Kelly only threw six incomplete passes, but two of those were intercepted by safety Willie Clay in the fourth quarter. He returned the second of those interceptions for a touchdown to ice a 35-21 victory for Detroit.
In this week’s contest, the modern-day Lions enter on a hot streak. They’ve won three games in a row, and the fourth contest was a tight one, as they lost 31-27 to the Miami Dolphins in Week 8. The offense has been sneaky-good all year, and while the defense has been suspect, it has been better of late.
If the Bills are going to come out with a victory on Thanksgiving for the second straight year, they’ll need to contain Detroit’s top players. Here are our five Lions to watch this week.
RB Jamaal Williams
No disrespect to quarterback Jared Goff, who’s having a solid year so far (15:7 TD:INT ratio; 64% completion rate, 2,442 yards), but it’s Detroit’s rushing attack that gives me the most pause this week. Williams has been excellent all season, and after last week’s 64-yard, three-touchdown performance, he leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12. Granted, the Bills took care of the NFL’s leading rusher coming into last week, holding Nick Chubb to just 19 yards on 14 carries. So if Buffalo commits to stopping the run, they’ve proven they can do it. Detroit also uses a stable of backs, as D’Andre Swift and Justin Jackson have seen carries this year. Swift is averaging 6.1 yards per rush, Jackson had 66 yards on nine carries last week, and Williams has had a nose for the end zone all year. Buffalo will have to be solid in their run fits again this week, forcing Goff to play the hero by throwing it in plenty of 3rd & Long situations.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
If there’s an area where Buffalo has really struggled of late, it’s in trying to stop a team’s top option in the passing game. Against the Minnesota Vikings, everyone knew that Justin Jefferson was the top target. He caught 10 passes for 193 yards and touchdown. Against the Cleveland Browns, everyone knew that Amari Cooper is the top target. He caught eight passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Against the Lions, everyone knows that St. Brown is the top target, as he’s averaging six catches on nine targets for 66 yards per game. He has three touchdowns on the season, as well. In the last four games, St. Brown hasn’t scored a touchdown, but he is averaging seven catches and 80 yards per game. Buffalo will have to be better against him than they’ve been against their recent opponents’ top targets.
DE Aidan Hutchinson
This guy is some athlete, which is pretty obvious since he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Hutchinson leads the Lions with 5.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits, but he isn’t just a dangerous pass rusher. He even has two interceptions, the second of which came last week to break New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones’s streak of 153 consecutive passes without a pick. Hutchinson dropped into a zone and leapt high in the air to make a phenomenal grab. He’s a handful regardless of where he’s lined up, and since the Bills can’t be sure that he’s automatically rushing the passer, quarterback Josh Allen will need to be sharp in his reads.
LB Alex Anzalone
Detroit’s leading tackler is strong against the run, but he’s not much of a threat in zone coverages underneath. With Buffalo’s host of options, they’d do well to spread the field horizontally to stress Anzalone and cause him to defend sideline-to-sideline. That means involving tight end Dawson Knox, who caught seven passes for 70 yards in his best game of the year last week. Anzalone has 77 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and four pass breakups this year. He’s allowing over 10 yards per completion when he’s the closest defender in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s someone with plenty of talent, but the Bills can exploit his weaknesses this week.
CB Amani Oruwariye
With excellent cornerback Jeff Okudah set to miss the game thanks to a concussion he suffered in last week’s win over the Giants, someone has to step up this week in the secondary for Detroit. Mike Hughes and Will Harris seem to be playing fairly regularly, but after making five starts in his first five games of the season, Oruwariye played just two defensive snaps combined in Weeks 9 and 10 before coming on to play 44 defensive snaps last week. If he sees more time, expect the Bills to pick on him a bit—and truthfully, the Bills should be able to exploit a secondary allowing an average of 262 passing yards per game regardless of who’s out there for the Lions. However, with their top corner out, the onus will fall on the others to pick up the pieces. Oruwariye may find himself back in the spotlight this week.