The longest home winning streak against one team in NFL history will be put on the line Sunday night when the Detroit Lions (4-8) and Green Bay Packers (8-4) meet at Lambeau Field.
The Packers have won 20 straight home games against the Lions (and 21 overall in the state of Wisconsin), besting Washington’s 18-game home winning streak over the Lions (1939-present) and Pittsburgh’s 16-game streak over Cleveland (1970-1985). Detroit hasn’t won a road game against the Packers since Dec. 15, 1991, a 21-17 win in Green Bay.
The Lions can point to last January’s 45-41 loss in Green Bay as one of the best opportunities it has had to snap the streak. But despite holding a 41-38 lead with under two minutes left and Aaron Rodgers holding a clipboard, the Lions allowed a late Jermichael Finley touchdown and lost its 20th-straight road game to their division rivals.
With four games left in 2012, the Packers have an opportunity to win the NFC North and secure a first-round bye. The Lions are out of the postseason picture, but playing the spoiler has added relevance with such a historic losing streak tied in.
Here are some other things you could watch Sunday night:
Spotlight on Megatron
The Lions have been dealt serious blows to their receiving depth chart. Ryan Broyles (ACL) and Titus Young (knee) were each placed on season-ending injured reserve this week, leaving names like Mike Thomas (three catches since trade to Detroit), Brian Robiske (two games, zero catches in 2012) and Kassim Osgood (zero catches) behind Calvin Johnson Sunday night. In response to a dwindling number of receiving options, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted Johnson a ridiculous 21 times against the Colts in Week 13.
The Packers can likely expect a similar onslaught of targets to Johnson Sunday night, regardless of whether he’s bracket-covered or not. Considering the other receivers that will share the field with Johnson, there’s really no reason why he should ever receive single coverage from Dom Capers’ defense. The Packers need to make another receiver beat them Sunday night.
T.J. Lang (ankle) hasn’t practiced this week, which makes it more and more likely undrafted rookie Don Barclay receives his first career start at right tackle Sunday night. While Barclay held up well after taking over for Lang against the Vikings Sunday, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril gave Lang everything he could handle back in Week 10. Avril is also enjoying the best three-game stretch of his season (four sacks and five other pressures since Nov. 18.).
Barclay should receive plenty of help against the Lions defensive end, likely in the form of a tight end or running back. But there will be times in which Barclay has to handle Avril one-on-one, especially on obvious passing downs. He’ll need to win those opportunities as often as he did Sunday against Brian Robison. Another strong performance would have to put Barclay in the running to start at right tackle for the rest of the 2012 season.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Packers were able to procure a consistent pass rush without Clay Matthews in the first meeting between these two teams. According to Pro Football Focus, Green Bay had 23 total quarterback disruptions and five sacks of Stafford. A number of the pressures directly resulted in wild throws from Stafford, including a pick-six from M.D. Jennings in the fourth quarter.
However, the Packers’ pass rush has mostly dried up since. Still playing without Matthews, Green Bay recorded 18 total pressures in games against the Giants and Vikings. The Packers aren’t likely to have Matthews (hamstring) Sunday night, so the pass rush will need to again find production from unlikely sources. Dezman Moses and Erik Walden have to be better at collapsing the pocket than they’ve been the last two weeks.
Key Matchup: Packers LG Evan Dietrich-Smith vs. Lions DT Nick Fairley
Fairley missed Thursday’s practice with the same quadriceps injury he suffered late against the Colts, leaving the possibility he could be inactive Sunday night. The Packers are likely planning for him to play. If Fairley does, Dietrich-Smith needs to do a better job at keeping the former first-round pick out of Rodgers’ lap.
In the first meeting, Fairley beat Dietrich-Smith countless times with power, speed and technique. Some of those issues can be fixed before Sunday night, some can’t. Overall, it’s simply not a great matchup physical-wise for the Packers. Dietrich-Smith must do his best to minimize the damage, because there’s too many other matchup worries at other spots on the Lions defensive line for much help to be focused his way.
These two teams open the door wide for a potential shootout, especially with Matthews on the sidelines and the multitude of struggles Detroit had last Sunday handling Andrew Luck and the Colts. But the Packers are no longer winning games with a flashy, high-volume offense, and Sunday shouldn’t be any different. If Green Bay does win, expect another ugly, grind-it-out contest. The blueprint for making things difficult on this offense is simply too well defined. The difference Sunday could come from another poor decision from Stafford against a Packers secondary that is continuing to get healthy.
Packers 23, Lions 20 (Season record: 7-5)
Zach Kruse is a 24-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covers prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.