8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Packers -12, Over/Under: 48
Division rivals desperate to put season opening defeats behind them clash at historic Lambeau Field, as the new-look Detroit Lions battle the Green Bay Packers in a primetime matchup. It’s the beginning of a bold new era for the Lions (0-1, T-1st in NFC North), who are hoping that their second half rally during last weekend’s 41-33 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers is more indicative of things to come rather than the 28-point hole that they initially fell into. After spending the last five years as Associate Head Coach to Sean Payton with the New Orleans Saints, (Head Coach) Dan Campbell was tabbed to lift Detroit out of the rut that they had fallen into under the direction of the previous regime; 14-33-1 over the last three seasons, Campbell has quite the rebuilding project on his hands, but anyone who has listened to the 45-year old former Tight End speak will understand that he is not short on energy or attitude. With that said, it remains to be seen if he and his Coaching Staff have enough of either commodity to lead these Lions out of the proverbial wilderness, which has unfortunately become their residence recently, particularly within the NFC North where they’ve finished dead-last three years running. Shortly after his introduction, the franchise made waves in parting ways with (longtime Franchise Quarterback) Matthew Stafford, who saw his twelve-year run with the team that drafted him No. One Overall back in 2009 come to an end via a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Rams for the services of (2016 No. One Overall Pick) Jared Goff (66.7%, 338 YDS, 5.23 NY/A, 3 TD, 1 INT, 33.4 QBR) along with a wealth of premium future draft picks. Of course, it was just three years ago that Goff helped lead the Rams to Super Bowl LIV, before ultimately falling out of favor with the coaching staff, with the Lions eager to bring him on in succession to Stafford. At 26-years old, by no means should this guy be considered a finished product, and this season (and in all likelihood the next) will be spent evaluating him in an attempt to ascertain whether or not he can indeed become this team’s franchise passer for the foreseeable future or simply a bridge to a younger, promising prospect. Upon evaluating his performance in that aforementioned loss to the Niners, there were both plenty of positive and negative takeaways to be had; apart from a disappointing interception returned to the house shortly before Halftime, Goff ended the afternoon 38-of-57 passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns against San Francisco’s aggressive Defense, exhibiting a steel and resilience that was rarely scene during his stint in Los Angeles. With that said, he must prove that he can in fact manage the game better and move the football successfully throughout the contest, not just in garbage time once the opponent has taken their foot off the gas. Now in his third season in the Motor City, (Pro-Bowl Tight End) T.J. Hockenson (8 REC, 97 YDS, 12.1 Y/R, 1 TD) has already developed a stellar chemistry with his hew Quarterback, hauling in eight receptions on eleven targets for ninety-seven yards and a touchdown, while the Backfield has also factored heavily into the passing attack with (Tailbacks) Jamaal Williams (9 CAR, 54 YDS, 6.0 Y/A, 1 TD) and D’Andre Swift (11 CAR, 39 YDS, 3.5 Y/A, 0 TD) combining for sixteen catches, 121 yards and a score. Both ‘backs were limited throughout practice this week with respective injuries, with the former no doubt eager to face his former employers tonight. And speaking of injuries, Campbell & Co were dealt a major blow in the form of (Sophomore Cornerback) Jeff Okudah (4 TKL, 1 PD), who unfortunately tore his Achilles in the latter stages of last weekend’s affair. The No. Three Overall Pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Okudah endured a rough rookie campaign in Detroit, and was expected to make a leap this season under the new coaching staff. Needless to say, this is a Defense that CANNOT afford to be losing it’s more talented players; no team in the league yielded more points (32.4) and total yards (419.8) last season than the Lions, and (Defensive Coordinator) Aaron Glenn’s charges are already off to a disappointing start after relinquishing the most points of any team in the NFL in Week One. As presently comprised, this unit lacks talent and depth on all three levels, with the loss of Okudah making a Secondary that ranked dead-last in touchdowns (38) and net yards per attempt allowed (7.8) all the more inviting for opposing Quarterbacks. Of course, this is NOT the situation that Campbell wants to be in heading into tonight’s affair with Green Bay, who have made a habit of abusing their division rivals of late, particularly at Lambeau Field; losers of four consecutive meetings with the Packers, the Lions have lost all but two of their last eleven trips to Wisconsin in which Aaron Rodgers (more on him shortly) has been the starter, with the reigning MVP torching them for twenty-one touchdowns in comparison to just four interceptions in those games.
Meanwhile, given everything that has transpired in Green Bay during the Offseason, last weekend’s miserable 38-3 showing against the New Orleans Saints was NOT what the Packers (0-1, T-1st in NFC North) had in mind as they embarked on what could very well amount to being a farewell campaign for their most recognizable figure. After suffering back-to-back losses in the NFC Championship Game, years of simmering tensions exploded within the organization as (longtime Franchise Quarterback) Aaron Rodgers (53.6%, 133 YDS, 4.21 NY/A, 0 TD, 2 INT, 17.2 QBR) publicly stated his desire to be traded, sending the league’s news cycle into a frenzy for months. While the franchise ultimately refrained from moving the three-time MVP, the sense coming out of Wisconsin is that the seventeen-year relationship between club and Quarterback is indeed beyond repair, with reports indicating that the 37-year old will be allowed to seek a new home following the conclusion of the campaign. And if that is truly the case, then it certainly seemed that he had one foot out of the door in the Season Opener. Simply put, (Head Coach) Matt LaFleur’s charges had a variety of factors working in their favor heading into that affair with the Saints; initially scheduled to be contested at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, last weekend’s venue had been changed to TIAA Bank Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida following the fallout from Hurricane Ida, nullifying one of the greater home field advantages in the NFL. Furthermore, their opponent was taking the field for the first time without (longtime Franchise Quarterback) Drew Brees, with a sense of uncertainty as to how they would transition into this bold, new era of football. However, the visitors ultimately failed to take advantage of either situation, for they never led in the affair, offering only a last-second field goal as the first half concluded. By the numbers, this one was ugly no matter how you examine it, folks; Green Bay totaled just 229 yards and fourteen first downs, rushing for a mere forty-three yards on fifteen carries, while converting a perplexing 1-of-10 third downs and possessing the football for only 25:24. They also committed three turnovers, two of which where interceptions thrown by Rodgers, the latter of the two being a defiant heave downfield as his protection broke down. 15-of-28 for a scant 133 yards, the 35-point loss was good for the largest margin of defeat in any of the 211 games that he has started for the franchise, including the Playoffs. Furthermore, the loss also snapped a six-game winning streak in Season Openers for the Packers. With that said, as listless as the Offense was, the Defense was just as disappointing in it’s debut under (new Defensive Coordinator) Joe Barry, yielding 171 rushing yards to the Saints and a remarkable FIVE touchdown passes to Jameis Winston, who when last was a regular starter led the league with THIRTY interceptions. Adding further insult, his 148 passing yards were the fewest in NFL history to be associated with that many touchdowns. And after the insult, here comes the injury, in the form of (Pro-Bowl Edge-Rusher) Za’Darius Smith (1 TKL), who after the game was placed on Injured Reserve with an ailing back. The 29-year old participated sparingly in the opener (just eighteen snaps), and will now miss at least the next three weeks of action, robbing the Defense of it’s most dangerous pass-rusher. With all that said, as cataclysmic as that loss appeared, the reality is that with every member of the NFC North losing in Week One, LaFleur & Co have an opportunity to move into first place within the division with another victory over their frequent punching bag, the Lions. Rodgers in particular has enjoyed their company, amassing a 17-5 record in twenty-two meetings, completing 64.8% of his passes for an average of 257.4 yards, with forty-six touchdowns opposed to eight interceptions, while rushing for four more scores to boot. Coming into tonight’s contest the Packers will be looking to win their ninth consecutive home opener, and doing so will likely involve incorporating some more balance to the attack. LaFleur has gone to great lengths to rebuild the ground game in Green Bay, ranking eighth in yards (132.4) and seventh in yards per carry (4.8) in 2020, which led them to retaining (Free Agent Tailback) Aaron Jones (5 CAR, 9 YDS, 1.8 Y/A, 0 TD), who logged a career-high 1,104 yards last year en route to earning his first Pro-Bowl nod. After totaling the fewest rushing attempts (15) and yards (43) of any team in Week One, look for this group to get back to basics on the ground tonight.