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Game Preview: Packers vs. Lions, Week 17

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Game Preview: Packers vs. Lions, Week 17

Photo by Tim Fuller—USA TODAY Sports. Graphic design by Brian Carriveau—

Photo by Tim Fuller—USA TODAY Sports. Graphic design by Brian Carriveau—

The Green Bay Packers (11-4) host the Detroit Lions (11-4) at Lambeau Field on Sunday Dec. 28 at 3:25 p.m. CT in a game televised on Fox.


The Big Picture: What's at Stake?

Nearly everything is at stake. The winner of the game will be the NFC North champion and earn at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a bye in the playoffs that comes along with it.

Both the Packers and the Lions have an outside shot at the No. 1 seed but need help. In addition to a win, the Packers need the Seattle Seahawks to lose on Sunday while the Lions need both the Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals to lose.

It may be of little consolation, but the loser gets the earlier draft pick and the easier schedule in 2015.


What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball

A) Aaron Rodgers' Mobility: Rodgers can be very effective as a pocket passer, but when he injured his calf early in last week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was sapped of arguably his best quality: his ability to extend plays with with his legs.

The NFL MVP candidate was classified as a limited practice participant all week and predictably listed as "probable" for Sunday's game, but the question is whether he's regained his usual mobility.

If Rodgers is a sitting duck and can't evade the pass rush, the Lions could blitz Rodgers heavily. If he's back to normal, however, teams has seen the most success playing coverage with two deep safeties, forcing Rodgers to work underneath.

B) Davante Adams' Contribution: After back-to-back games of dropped passes and big-time struggles, observers are questioning whether Adams has hit the proverbial "rookie wall."

In a passing game that relies so much on timing, Adams needs to get on the same page as Rodgers and become more reliable. The Packers' second round draft pick has shown playmaking ability in spurts this season but has yet to do it on a consistent basis.

The Packers don't necessarily need Adams to become a threat as much as they need somebody, anybody to take pressure off receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Whether that's Adams, Jarrett Boykin or a tight end, a No. 3 outlet has to emerge on Sunday and beyond.

C) Guard Turnaround: The Packers may very well have the best pair of guards in the NFL with proof perhaps coming earlier this week when Josh Sitton was named to the Pro Bowl and T.J. Lang was tabbed as an alternate.

Their worst outing of the season, however, was without question the first meeting against the Lions earlier in the season. Lang in particular struggled with Ndamukong Suh, getting beat for a sack and later a safety. Sitton didn't fare much better.

The job will be easier this time around, not having to face Lions defensive lineman Nick Fairley, who's likely to miss the game with a knee injury. Even so, Sitton and Lang need a have a better showing in order to open up holes for Eddie Lacy and keeping Rodgers upright.


What to Watch When the Lions Have the Ball

A) Stressing Rookie Center Replacement: Dominic Raiola, the Lions' longtime starter at center, has been suspended for Sunday's game after violating the NFL's safety-related rules when he stomped on Chicago Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson in Week 16.

Replacing Raiola in the lineup will be rookie offensive lineman Travis Swanson who played four games at guard earlier this season but will be making his first NFL start at the center position.

The Packers will be looking to stress and confuse Swanson in as many ways possible with stunts and A-gap blitzes, maybe even with Clay Matthews coming up the gut from his inside linebacker spot. But it will be Letroy Guion and Mike Daniels will be the ones lining up across from him a majority of the time.

B) Defending Calvin Johnson without Davon House: In the first meeting against the Lions this season, the Packers used Davon House's length to defend against Johnson, and the Packers cornerback performed quite well, limiting Megatron six catches for 82 yards, but more importantly, keeping him out of the end zone.

House still has yet to practice since injuring his shoulder in the Week 14 game against the Atlanta Falcons when he got tied up with wide receiver Julio Jones and has officially been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Lions, so the Packers won't be able to rely on House's extra couple inches to stop Johnson.

The primary responsibility will probably come down to Sam Shields to cover Johnson, but safety help over the top will be imperative. If there's ever a time for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to come up with his best game of his rookie season, the timing would be perfect.

C) Third-Down Defense: One of the biggest problems the Packers encountered during their loss to the Lions back in September was that they allowed Detroit to convert third downs at a 61 percent clip, 11 of 18.

Despite winning the turnover battle, the Packers were dominated in time of possession because they couldn't get the Lions offense off the field. Detroit held the football for over 38 minutes while Green Bay held it for a little over 21.

The Packers aren't among the league leaders in third-down defense, ranking just 17th in the NFL, but on average they allow opponents to convert just 40.5 percent of third downs. If the Packers can hold the Lions to that average, it will be a major improvement.

What to Watch on Special Teams

Coverage Units: The Packers have struggled on special teams for a majority of the season, and the concern only becomes heightend as winter sets in and temperatures dip below freezing.

Mason Crosby and Tim Masthay already rank among the bottom of the league in kickoff and punting average respectively, and the job only becomes more dificult at a time of the year the ball becomes like a rock and doesn't travel as far.

It will be a world of difference from the 80 degree temperatures the Packers experienced in Tampa Bay last week. And they can ill afford to allow a punt return for a touchdown like they did two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills.


Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (7) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Norm's picture

Not overly worried about this one, surprisingly. Lions offense is very inconsistent and a good running game, which we have, can beat them, with all the play action possibilities coming off that. Packers by two touchdowns.

Allan Murphy's picture

Player sick of talk lets play the game it will be a good game hope pack win go pack go .

The TKstinator's picture

Detroit has a good defensive line, GB has a good offensive line.
Detroit has Stafford, GB has Rodgers.

Any further questions?

ballark's picture

Hard to put into words what this game must mean for Detroit. To finally win the North and end the losing streak at Lambeau? You can bet every Detroit player is ready to die on that field tomorrow. I think a real key for this game is for Green Bay to come out quick and prison yard mean--to match Detroit's intensity and to be the tougher, more physical team.

This game is going to be a bar fight. Broken bottles. Broken pool sticks... This is the kind of game Mike Daniels has been hollering about since training camp.

Go Pack Go!

Big Moe's picture

Agreed it's time for the D to unleash the beast and really get after Stafford, hit him early and often, 19 points won't be enough to get-er-done at Lambeau.

Mario Willis's picture

Welcome to the Black & Blue Division Championship Game.
I only worry that we don't know how to play a grind it out/field position type game & our problems on special teams will haunt us.

The Lions have been given enough CHALKBOARD material to go around with all of the Pundits/Talking Heads counting them out at Lambeau but this will be a DOG FIGHT.

Packers by 10.

zerotolerance's picture

Look for a Cobb option pass today. I think they have been saving it for a game like today's.

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