NFL Prediction: Detroit Lions To Meet Resting Green Bay Packers
Friday, December 30, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
For the first time this millennium, the Detroit Lions have secured their first playoff berth. But unlike the Green Bay Packers, they still have plenty to play for. The Lions could be facing myriad of backups Sunday when they try to solidify their playoff seeding by ending a 20-game road losing streak to the Packers, who wrapped up home-field advantage last week. Detroit is headed to the postseason for the first time since 1999, but the Lions need to win the finale to avoid a trip to either San Francisco or New Orleans on wild card weekend.
Detroit holds a one-game edge over Atlanta for the No. 5 seed and will stay there with either a win or an Atlanta loss. The Falcons own the tiebreaker due to their Week 7 victory over the Lions in Detroit. The Lions haven’t won at Lambeau Field since 1991. They enter with momentum, having won three straight since a 27-15 loss to Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day – a game that was marred by the ejection of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Detroit Lions were able to achieve one of the goals the team set heading into this season, but there's still very elusive one they'd very much like to reach.
Detroit fell to both the Saints and 49ers earlier on in its breakthrough campaign, but bested the Cowboys in Dallas in a 34-30 thriller back in Week 4. The Lions have not faced the Giants this season.
Jim Schwartz also addressed the importance of sustaining momentum for the playoffs, which the Lions have after prevailing in their third consecutive contest a week ago. He used last season's Packers and the 2007 Giants, both of whom had to fight their way into the postseason but wound up winning the Super Bowl out of a Wild Card slot, as examples to that point in his weekly press conference.
Halting a painfully-long lack of success against the division-rival Packers on the road would be a worthwhile endeavor as well for Detroit. Including a 1994 playoff setback, the Lions have dropped 20 straight bouts with Green Bay as the visitor since a 21-17 triumph at Lambeau on Dec. 15, 1991.
The Packers will likely take an alternative approach to Sunday's showdown after wrapping up the NFC's top overall seed with a 35-21 home decision over sliding Chicago on Christmas night. The result would enable head coach Mike McCarthy to rest several nicked-up players if he so chooses in preparation for the more significant games that lie ahead.
Green Bay has already ruled out Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings due to a sprained knee, while tight end Jermichael Finley (knee), running back James Starks (ankle), offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) and rookie receiver Randall Cobb (groin) are all candidates to sit as well.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to start for the Packers, but it's believed he'll give way to backup Matt Flynn at some point in the first half. The team also plans on playing veteran offensive tackle Chad Clifton, who's missed the last 10 games with a torn hamstring.
The series between the Lions and Packers dates back to 1930, with Green Bay holding an 90-65-7 regular-season advantage in addition to its lengthy home winning streak over Detroit. Green Bay has also taken 13 of the last 15 overall meetings between the storied foes following its Thanksgiving Day result at Ford Field, and the Packers had ousted the Lions 10 consecutive times prior to Detroit's 7-3 verdict in the Motor City during Week 14 of last season.
Green Bay had swept its home-and-home set with the Lions four straight years before the teams split their two 2010 encounters.
The longtime rivals have squared off only twice during the postseason, with Green Bay winning a 1993 NFC First-Round Playoff matchup in Detroit and also besting the Lions in an opening-round game at Lambeau Field the following year.
McCarthy sports a 10-1 career record against Detroit, with last season's setback the lone blemish, while Schwartz is 1-4 against both McCarthy and Green Bay during his tenure.
Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, January 1, 2012. Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
NFL Football Odds: Lions -3, O/U 44.5
- Detroit Lions: The Lions clinched a wild-card berth. They can lock up the fifth seed with a win or an ATL loss. COMMENT: The Lions earned their first playoff berth since 1999. Might be the team no one wants to play in the postseason.
- Green Bay Packers: Green Bay has clinched the NFC North, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. COMMENT: With everything clinched, the Packers have to ponder what to do in their regular-season finale. If they rest players, they will have two weeks off before their next game.
The Lions have reaped the benefits of keeping Matthew Stafford healthy for a full season. The third-year pro hadn’t played in more than 10 games prior to this season. A Pro Bowl alternate, Stafford is tied for third in the NFL with 36 touchdowns, and in any other season his 4,518 yards would likely rank higher than fourth-best in the league. He has done a complete 180 since a rough four-game stretch that featured 10 interceptions.
Stafford threw for 373 yards and three scores in last week’s 38-10 win over San Diego and is averaging 349.8 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception over the last four contests. The defense has also been key to the Lions' success. Detroit is third in the league in turnover differential (plus-13). DE Cliff Avril has a career-best 11 sacks and six forced fumbles. Avril’s one-handed, 4-yard interception return last week was the Lions’ fifth defensive touchdown, which is the second most in the NFL.
One week after suffering their first loss in shocking fashion, the Packers reminded everyone they are still the defending Super Bowl champions. Aaron Rodgers threw a career-high five touchdowns in a 35-21 Christmas night win over Chicago and remains the odds-on favorite to win his first MVP. Rodgers needs five touchdowns to tie Tom Brady’s NFL record of 50 set in 2007, but he’s unlikely to play long enough to reach that milestone.
Meanwhile, Green Bay’s defense could get a boost from the return of defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who has missed the last two games with a concussion. On the other side, the banged-up offensive line is hoping to welcome back left tackle Chad Clifton. Clifton hasn’t played since Week 5 due to a hamstring injury.
Obviously, how Green Bay chooses to employ its personnel in an essentially meaningless contest will have a huge bearing on the outcome. The Packers' regulars didn't have much trouble handling Detroit on the road earlier this season, but the possibility of difference-makers such as Rodgers, Charles Woodson and Clay Matthews seeing only limited snaps could easily tip the scales in the Lions' favor assuming Schwartz wasn't bluffing when he said his team would be going all out this week.
Green Bay's MVP-contending quarterback was able to expertly dissect the Detroit defense on Thanksgiving Day, and the Packers' front line did a quality job of providing him ample time to survey the field. That could very well be the case once more for as long as he's out there on Sunday if the Lions' array of pass-rushers aren't making an impact.
Stafford has been exceptional during his team's recent surge, but his three interceptions in the initial game between these combatants were definitely a factor in the Lions' loss. It's no secret that Detroit plans on throwing the ball extensively on Sunday, and how a Green Bay defense that's allowed a lot of passing yards this year and may not be fielding all its starters performs this time around will help decide whether the reigning world champs can complete the season sweep.
The Lions' 20-game losing streak in Green Bay is the longest active road losing streak in the NFL.
If the Lions earn the fifth seed, they will travel to either New York or Dallas on wild card weekend.
The Packers have seven Pro Bowlers, their most since the 1967.
Green Bay is 11-1 SU in its last 12 games when playing Detroit
Green Bay is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing at home against Detroit
The total has gone OVER in 7 of Green Bay's last 8 games at home
Detroit is 5-13-2 ATS in its last 20 games when playing on the road against Green Bay
Detroit is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 games when playing Green Bay
Detroit is 2-3-1 ATS in its last 6 games on the road
The Packers really have nothing to gain from this game other than trying to stay sharp for the postseason, but that's hardly the case for their opponent. While garnering a better playoff seed should be enticing enough, the Lions will also be out to show the world they belong in the NFL's upper crust, and a victory over the league's best team through the regular season would serve notice regardless of whether or not Green Bay doesn't use its full arsenal of players.
It's hard to imagine the Packers coming close to hitting their season scoring average with Rodgers and a number of their main offensive cogs either inactive or having a reduced role, while Detroit won't find too much resistance in its quest for points as long as Stafford can maintain his excellent recent form.
NFL Football Pick: Take Lions.
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