8:25 PM EST, NBC – Line: Packers -4, Over/Under: 50
In the last weekend of the Regular Season, only a few games with high stakes remain, with one such contest set to serve as a preamble to the Playoffs as the Green Bay Packers travel to Ford Field to battle the Detroit Lions with the NFC North Championship on the line. It’s as plain and simple as it gets here, folks: it’s win or (in all likelihood) go home, with tonight’s loser needing the Washington Redskins to lose to the New York Giants in order to obtain the second and final Wild Card in the NFC. Either way, both teams will know what needs to be done, as that particular contest of interest will be settled hours before their meeting tonight. In all honesty, the Packers (9-6, T-1st in NFC North) must like their chances heading into this clash, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, after a miserable midseason swoon that saw them drop four consecutive games, Mike McCarthy’s charges have created a great deal of momentum for themselves courtesy of a five-game winning streak, which has them poised to secure their fifth Division Title since 2011. It’s amazing what a return to health can do for a team, as Green Bay has welcomed back many of their number, particularly on the defensive side of the ball; during their four-game slide they were absolutely decimated on Defense, relinquishing a staggering 38.3 points on 420.8 Total Yards, but during their recent run they’ve completely turned things around, relegating opponents to 17.6 points on 369.6 Total Yards. A complete about-face indeed. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Aaron Rodgers (65.5% 4,128 YDS, 36 TD, 7 INT, 72.9 QBR) under Center either, for the two-time MVP has made a rather strong case for a third such trophy with his play down the stretch. Over the last five outings, the five-time Pro Bowl Quarterback has connected on an efficient 71.4% of his attempts for an average of 273.4 yards on a healthy 8.5 yards per attempt, with eleven touchdowns and zero interceptions, while rushing for another score to boot. In last week’s 38-25 demolition of the Vikings, Rodgers eviscerated Minnesota’s staunch defense, completing 28-of-38 passes (73.7%) for 347 yards and four touchdowns, along with that lone one of the rushing variety mentioned earlier. Then again, this shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone, for it certainly hasn’t for Rodgers, who boldly proclaimed after a dismal 24-42 showing at Washington in late November that he felt his team would “run the table”. We suppose he’s a prophet too. Receivers Jordy Nelson (91 REC, 1,191 YDS, 14 TD) and Davante Adams (69 REC, 966 YDS, 10 TD) will call him whatever he wants as long as he keeps feeding them touchdown passes, as the former has made the successful trek back from a nasty knee injury that robbed him of the 2015 season in it’s entirety, to lead the league in touchdown receptions, while the latter has flourished into a dangerous vertical threat in his third year in the league. There’s also their recent history with the Lions to consider too; Green Bay defeated them 34-27 back on September 25th, and overall has won three out of the last four against Detroit, including that miraculous 27-23 victory at Ford Field a year ago. Trailing 23-21 in the game’s waning moments, Rodgers desperately heaved a 61-yard bomb which landed in the hands of Tight End Richard Rodgers, helping key the Packers’ run to the Postseason. In fifteen career meetings with the Lions, Rodgers is 12-3 boasting an impressive stat line completing 66.3% of his passes averaging 2505 yards per game, with thirty touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for another six scores.
Meanwhile, this is what’s it’s come to for the Lions (9-6, T-1st in NFC North), who just three weeks ago looked as if they were well on their way towards securing their first NFC North Championship since 1993. Then as has happened so oftentimes before, fate reeled it’s ugly head. Back on December 11th, Detroit defeated flailing Chicago 20-17, in which starting Quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a torn ligament in the middle finger of his right hand, which by the way is the very same hand he uses to throw the ball. So is it any coincidence that his team has since lost their last two games? Jim Caldwell’s charges struggled mightily in a 17-6 loss in the Meadowlands to the Giants, followed by a 42-21 meltdown this past Monday Night at Dallas, in which they conceded twenty-one unanswered points in the Second Half after heading into Halftime squared away 21-21. During this stretch Stafford has not adapted well to his ailment, or the modified glove that he’s resorted to wearing for that matter; in the thirteen games preceding the injury, the Quarterback completed an efficient 66.7% of his passes for an average of 265.2 Yards per Game on 7.4 Yards per Attempt, twenty-two touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for a touchdown, but in the two games since his finger sustained harm he has completed 58.8% of his passes for an average of 266.5 Yards per Game on 6.3 Yards per Attempt, no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. And therein lies the problem for Caldwell and his Staff: the margin between victory and defeat has been razor thin for the Lions all year, who have trailed in the Fourth Quarter of all but one of their nine victories, with twelve of their fifteen contests being decided by one possession. In fact, they’ve been outscored by a total of five points on the season as a whole. And to be completely honest, they have relied heavily on Stafford in these situations; the 28-year old has led them on eight Fourth Quarter Comebacks, which ties the NFL Record set by Peyton Manning back in 2009. Furthermore, in situations in which the game has been played within a zero to seven-point margin, he has completed 66.2% of his throws for an average of 258.8 yards (7.3 Y/A), twenty touchdowns and seven interceptions. Now if that stat line doesn’t look all that different from the one that he amassed throughout the first thirteen games of the season, it shouldn’t, for Detroit has played within that particular margin virtually all year. It’s somewhat poetic that he must go through Rodgers and the Packers in order to earn the franchise’s first division crown in twenty-three years, for they have stood in his way for quite a while now; in twelve meetings, Stafford is just 3-9 against Green Bay, completing 59.8% of his attempts for 286.8 Yards per Game on 7.0 Yards per Attempt, twenty-three touchdowns and eighteen interceptions, while suffering twenty-seven sacks. One of the prime reasons this team has so frequently lived and died on the arm of their Quarterback, is because their Offense has been woefully one-dimensional, for Caldwell has yet to find a way to manufacture a respectable ground attack. Balance would go a long with this unit, but instead they’ve carried the ball the second-fewest times in the league (21.9 A/G) for just 82.3 yards (30th Overall) on just 3.8 Yards per Carry (26th Overall). Furthermore, after gaining over 110 yards on the ground in each of the first two games of the campaign, they’ve totaled over 100 yards once ever since, as injuries to Tailbacks Theo Riddick (Wrist) and Ameer Abdullah (Foot) have laid their Backfield low. With that said, lack of running game and hobbled Quarterback aside, the Lions can still earn a great deal with a victory tonight, for a win coupled with losses by the Falcons and Seahawks would grant them the Second Seed in the NFC and most importantly, a Bye in the First Round of the Playoffs.
Predicted Outcome: Packers 24, Lions 20