- The Washington Times
Thursday, September 15, 2022

ASHBURN | Told the Detroit Lions were favorites Sunday for the first time in nearly two years, Terry McLaurin had the only appropriate reaction. 

“Wow,” the Commanders wide receiver said. 

Yes, the Lions are 2½ point favorites against Washington ahead of this weekend’s game at Ford Field, ending a 24-game streak in which Detroit entered a game as an underdog — the longest such cold spell since 1966, according to ESPN.

McLaurin, of course, isn’t the type to concern himself with point spreads. But the gambling line reflects at least two things about Sunday’s showdown: The Lions, it appears, are no longer seen as pushovers. And the Commanders, even after a gutsy Week 1 win, still have a ways to go before they’re viewed as any sort of threat. 

“It speaks to the culture they’re trying to build there,” McLaurin said of the Lions being favored. “When you build a culture on toughness — every team wants to be tough — but you see it on film. They play really, really hard. Their defense finishes to the ball. They’re really excited on the sideline when guys make a play.

“For us, we’ve got to match that intensity as an offense.”

That standard of toughness, as McLaurin referred to, is instilled by Dan Campbell — the Lions coach who famously promised his team would “bite a kneecap off” during his opening press conference last year. In the second year of his tenure, Campbell’s Lions play with that sort of intensity: They blitz frequently and have a surprisingly explosive offense.

Last year, the Lions went 3-13-1 and earned the second overall pick in the draft. But they were scrappy in a 38-35 week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Detroit blitzed 45.5% of the time, while players like running back D’Andre Swift (144 rushing yards) and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (eight catches, 64 yards) contributed to a unit that finished with 386 total yards.  

The Commanders have reason to be confident, too, though.

Beating Jacksonville — the team with the league’s worst record last season — may not have meant much in Las Vegas, but the win showed coaches and players that the team has the playmakers to compete.

Wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and rookie Jahan Dotson served as complements to quarterback Carson Wentz. The defensive line, particularly with tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, was back to creating havoc. 

The Commanders earned a little buzz in some quarters of the league for the win over the Jaguars. ESPN’s Mina Kimes tweeted she was upgrading Washington’s receiving corps from “feisty” to “actually great.” NFL Network’s Peter Schrager named Dotson as the league’s best rookie performer in Week 1 for his two-touchdown outing.  

Football Outsiders even increased the Commanders’ playoff odds by 10.5% because of the victory — the fourth-biggest jump in the league.

“For us, it’s really about keeping that momentum,” coach Ron Rivera said. 

One of the reasons Washington’s playoff odds jumped had to be because of what else happened in the NFC East. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a thumb injury that will sideline him for at least the next few weeks — creating an opening for other teams in the division. Washington first faces Dallas on Oct. 2, and Prescott likely won’t be back by then. 

Commanders safety Bobby McCain acknowledged thinking about the possibilities. He said he watches ESPN and hears the discussion about Prescott and the Cowboys. “They always talk about what’s coming,” McCain said. But the safety said his mind doesn’t wander too far into the future. 

“The only game that matters right now is Detroit,” he said.

If Washington beats Detroit, it’ll mark the first time since 2011 that the franchise has started a season with a 2-0 record. That campaign, though, serves as a cautionary tale: Washington finished that season at just 5-11, unable to sustain its hot start.

The Commanders, too, last won in Detroit in 2008. Washington has dropped four straight in the Motor City, including most recently a 2020 defeat in which defensive end Chase Young committed a roughing-the-passer penalty that set up a game-winning Detroit field goal. 

The circumstances have changed even more since then. The Lions are under a different regime. The Commanders, well, are now the Commanders — thanks to a name change.

But the Lions are the favorites. And that can’t be said too often. No matter how different this season could be for Washington

“I’m not really concerned about the betting line,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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