8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Packers -5, Over/Under: 49
It’s the final game of the 2022 regular season, and there may (or may not) be PLENTY to play for these teams, as the surging Detroit Lions battle the streaking Green Bay Packers in a juicy division finale ripe with postseason implications from none other than the frigid tundra of historic Lambeau Field. Whether or not they return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, the Lions (8-8, 2nd in NFC North) may very well be the most pleasant story in the NFL this season, washing away the last four years of ineptitude with an opportunity to clinch their first winning campaign in since 2017. Indeed, (Head Coach) Dan Campbell and his coaching staff have done a TREMENDOUS job rebuilding a franchise that had completely flatlined under the previous regime, enduring a difficult first season in the Motor City in which they went winless in their first eleven games together. However, credit to Campbell & Co for staying the course, for after yet another slow start (1-6 through October 30th), they’ve produced some sweet music that has become the toast of Motown, winning seven of their last nine contests and positioning themselves on the precipice of the playoffs. So, what in the name of Barry Sanders has gotten into these felines, you ask? Well, after that aforementioned rough season-and-a-half, the Offense has grown into one of the most productive in the league, posting 28.8 points per game on 374.7 total yards, including 250.4 yards through the air. Furthermore, they’ve taken much better care of the football during this stretch, committing just FOUR turnovers in comparison to the eleven that they coughed up beforehand. (Offensive Coordinator) Ben Johnson has turned this unit into a balanced, big-play attack that has answers for just about anything a Defense can bring to the table, ranking fifth in scoring (27.1), fourth in total offense (393.5), eighth in passing (263.8), fifth in net yards per attempt (7.0), eleventh in rushing (129.7), and fourth in the red zone (68.3%). The Offensive Line has been a real strength, leading the way for (Tailbacks) Jamaal Williams (994 yards) and D’Andre Swift (517 yards), with the former leading the NFL with FIFTEEN rushing touchdowns. With that said, the best story has been the reclamation of (veteran Quarterback) Jared Goff. From being selected first overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, to starting in Super Bowl LIII, to being unceremoniously benched in a playoff game only to be traded away along with a wealth of draft capital two years later, Goff (pictured below) served as the poster boy of his team’s miserable beginning to the Campbell era, though has now become the face of their resurrection. While he wasn’t as bad as many would suggest he was in 2021, the 28-year-old has flipped the script in 2022, completing fewer passes (64.9%), but finding far more success downfield to a bevy of talented targets, averaging 263.4 yards per game on a healthy 7.07 net yards per attempt, his most since his last Pro-Bowl campaign of 2018, with twenty-nine touchdowns opposed to seven interceptions. Furthermore, this current period of play has arguably been the finest of his wild career, completing 65.8% of his throws for 256.7 yards per game on 7.43 net yards per attempt, with seventeen touchdowns in comparison to only one interception. The only thing that kept them from ascending to even greater heights is a Defense that has been torched for more yards than any team in the league (399.1), which is sure to receive plenty of attention from Campbell and (General Manager) Brad Holmes in the offseason. With that said, it’s awfully ironic that this current stretch began with a 15-9 victory over the Packers at Ford Field, in which the Defense picked off Aaron Rodgers (much more on him in a bit) THREE times in the red zone. Though Detroit can get into the playoffs with a win tonight, they can only do so if the Seahawks lose to the Rams earlier in a game that is to kickoff at 4:25 PM EST, which is four hours before this fateful showdown at Lambeau, meaning that they could be eliminated from the postseason before even taking the field tonight.
When we last saw the Lions, they earned their seventh victory in nine tries as they absolutely hammered (division rival) the Bears in a 41-10 affair last weekend. Despite falling behind 10-7 in the first quarter, this one proved to be all Detroit the rest of the way, as the hosts responded with THIRTY-FOUR unanswered points. Campbell’s cats scored on six of their first seven possessions of the afternoon, five of which encompassed over sixty yards culminating in a touchdown. In the end, this contest was about as one-sided as they come, folks, as the Lions outgained the Bears 504-230, logged fifteen more first downs, and held possession for a whopping 35:43 of game time. Goff completed an efficient 21-of-29 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers, distributing the football to ten different targets, with (Sophomore Tight End) Brock Wright hauling in two of those scores. Both ground games were impressive on their ways to cracking 200 rushing yards, but it was Detroit who held the edge in this regard, churning out a season-high 265 yards on thirty-nine carries, led by the aforementioned Williams with 144 yards and a touchdown on twenty-two carries, while Swift added another seventy-eight yards and two more scores, including 21-yard strike from Goff. On the flipside, the Defense may have failed to contain Justin Fields as a runner (132 yards), but they made sure he endured a tough day at the office as a passer, relegating the emerging Quarterback to just 7-of-21 passing for seventy-five yards, with a touchdown and interception, a lost fumble, and SEVEN sacks. (Rookie Linebacker) James Houston accounted for three of those sacks, with the sixth-round pick out of Jackson State forcing that fumble. Looking to tonight’s showdown at Lambeau Field, the Lions have split their last ten meetings with the Packers, though have taken each of the last two encounters. Since arriving via trade last season, Goff has completed 66.3% of his passes for an average of 207.0 yards on 6.55 net yards per attempt, with six touchdowns in comparison to two interceptions, along with a pair of fumbles, one of which was lost. From a betting perspective, Detroit has been on a tear, covering the spread in all but two of their last ten games overall, though they have been far cooler away from Ford Field, covering the spread in half of their last ten trips away from the Motor City. With that said, being an underdog has suited them well, owning a 7-3 mark when getting points, which includes a five-game winning streak against the spread. Furthermore, Campbell’s troops have covered five consecutive games after allowing fewer than fifteen points in the previous game, which is the case tonight. On the injury front, the Offensive Line could be without the services of (Center) Frank Ragnow, who has been nursing an ailing foot of late, with his backup, Evan brown, probable with an improved ankle sprain, if the veteran cannot go. (Former third overall pick) Jeffery Okudah, (Defensive Lineman) Michael Brockers, and (Safety) DeShon Elliott are all listed as questionable with various maladies for a Defense that was essential to their previous victory over the Packers.
Meanwhile, after winning each of their last four contests and seeing several other outcomes fall in their favor along the way, the Packers (8-8, 3rd in NFC North) have remarkably positioned themselves in a win-and-they’re-in scenario, which seemed unfathomable a month ago. Indeed, Green Bay was life support as they entered December at 4-8 thanks in large part to a roster that was ravaged by injuries on both sides of the football, while (two-time Reigning MVP Quarterback) Aaron Rodgers routinely venting his frustrations with an inexperienced Receiving Corps that was just as likely to drop a wide-open pass as they were to make a big play. Of course, this season has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride for the cheese heads, who came into this season winning each of the last three division titles, though lacking much of their previous firepower. You see, (Head Coach) Matt LaFleur lost arguably the top Receiver in the league last Spring, as (All-Pro) Davante Adams was traded away to Las Vegas not long after Rodgers ended his lengthy cold war with the franchise to sign a fully guaranteed $151.3 million contract. (Fellow Wideout) Marque Valdes-Scantling also left for greener pastures, leaving the 39-year-old passer surrounded by a heavily depleted crop of pass-catchers, two of which being rookies, setting the table for a miserable stretch of football in which the passing game was rather hard to watch. Compounding matters was a broken thumb and a cracked rib to the four-time MVP, which led some in Eastern Wisconsin pondering if it was time to hand the reins over to Jordan Love, who has rarely seen the field since being selected as Rodgers’ potential successor two years ago. However, everything changed as the calendar transitioned to December, for as the schedule lightened up and the roster began to return to return to full strength, the Packers’ fortunes have changed dramatically for the better. So, what in the name of Bart Starr has changed in Green Bay, you ask? Well, as just stated, the schedule softened considerably, while a late bye (Week 14) has accelerated their improvement in health, though the development of those young Receivers has also made quite a difference and not to mention a much happier Quarterback. After hauling in just ten passes throughout the first nine weeks, Christian Watson erupted for fifteen receptions, 313 yards, and SEVEN touchdowns during a four-game stretch, while the return of a healthy Romeo Doubs has offered even more targets for Rodgers to throw to. Over the last four outings, the Offense has averaged 29.8 points on 329.5 total yards, including 138.8 via the run, while committing just three turnovers along the way. Rodgers may not be prolific at this point of the campaign, but the point is that he hadn’t had to be, completing 64.2% of his passes for 202.0 yards per game on 6.13 net yards per attempt, with four touchdown and a pair of interceptions, while rushing for another score in last weekend’s thumping of the Vikings (much more on this one shortly). As we stated earlier, the Lions certainly got the better of the future Hall-of-Famer when they last met, though over the course of his illustrious career, few Quarterbacks have tormented them more so than Rodgers; in twenty-five career meetings, he has won eighteen times, while completing 65.0% of his passes for an average of 253.8 yards on a healthy 7.54 net yards per attempt, with FIFTY-SEVEN total touchdowns in comparison to seventeen total turnovers. With that said, the Defense has played a HUGE part in this turnaround, permitting an average of 17.0 points on 321.8 total yards, with nine sacks and most importantly TWELVE takeaways, including FOUR in each of the last two affairs.
When we last saw the Packers, they extended their current win streak to four victories, obliterating the (NFC North champion) Vikings in a watershed 41-17 triumph to bring them one game closer to returning to the playoffs. Granted, Minnesota had little to play for having sewn up the division weeks ago, though this particular matchup was night and day in comparison to when these sides met back in the season opener. Green Bay was dreadful in that 23-7 defeat, as Rodgers was just 22-of-34 for 195 yards with an interception, a lost fumble, and for sacks, leaving the affair in favor of his Love, in the fourth quarter. In this one, Rodgers was much more efficient with 159 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers on 15-of-24 passing, with the ground game posting a stellar 163 yards and two scores on thirty-three carries, while the Defense and Special Teams stole the show early with back-to-back touchdown returns. First, (young Cornerback) Keisean Nixon took the kickoff following the Northmen’s opening field goal 105 yards to the end zone, while (young Safety) Darnell Savage Jr. picked off Kirk Cousins deep into Packers’ territory and returned it seventy-five yards to the house to take a 14-3 lead. LaFleur must have enjoyed the balance that his troops produced, with just five yards separating the ground game from the passing attack, leading to a healthy 7-of-12 on third down and a domination in time of possession (34:04). (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Aaron Jones led the way with 111 yards on just fourteen attempts, while A.J. Dillon added another forty-one yards and a score on a dozen attempts, with Rodgers even getting into the action with a rushing score of his own. (Defensive Coordinator) Joe Berry’s unit forced FOUR turnovers in this one, producing their second consecutive game with that number of takeaways, with (Safeties) Adrian Amos and Rudy Ford each intercepting Cousins, while (veteran Defensive Tackle) Kenny Clark recovering his own strip sack of the Vikings’ Quarterback. Looking to tonight’s affair, the Packers lead the all-time series with the Lions by a comfortable margin (105-74-7), and are 18-3 against them at home since 2000, the best record of any team against Detroit at one particular venue during that period. From a betting perspective, Green Bay has been on a serious heater of late, winning and covering the spread in four of their last five outings, including each of the last three contests. With that said, they’re a middling 5-5 against the spread over the last ten games at Lambeau Field, while covering the number in just four of their last ten affairs when branded as a favorite by the oddsmakers. Furthermore, Detroit has proven to be a kryptonite of sorts in that regard, for these cheese heads who have posted a 2-8 record against the spread no matter the venue. Oh, and then there is this last nugget: Rodgers & Co are 1-4 against the spread in their last five games after scoring more than thirty points in the previous contest, which is the case tonight. On the injury front, it’s a similar story for the Packers, who should welcome back the services of (Right Guard) Elgton Jenkins a week after getting (Left Tackle) David Bakhtiari back on the field, with both Linemen listed as questionable with respective ailments. Jones has been nursing a sore shoulder for weeks now, but won’t be missing this crucial finale, while the aforementioned Watson has been hampered by a tender hip of late but hasn’t missed any time as a result.