Sunday, November 18, 2012

Packers vs. Lions: Big Game for Both Teams

In the unofficial start to the second half of the NFL season for the Green Bay Packers following the team's bye week, the schedule-makers begin to serve up a heapin' plateful of NFC North Division opponents. Five of the Pack's final seven games are within the division. The NFL has finally decided to create a schedule that keeps things interesting right until the end of the season. First up for the Packers is the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

The Packers are 6-3 and the Lions are 4-5. The Pack is favored by 3-1/2 points. This is a huge game for both teams. With a win, the Packers will go to 7-3 and thus will likely be tied for the division lead with Da Bearz who, especially without QB Jay Cutler, will likely be on the losing end of their game with San Francisco Monday night. Actually, because the Pack beat Chicago in their first meeting, Green Bay holds the tiebreaker and actually would be in first place based upon that factor. If the Pack loses today, and Da Bearz also lose, they will remain one game behind...not horrible, but with this game setting up so well to pick up a game on Chicago, it really is a game they need to win. On the outside chance the Pack loses and Chicago wins, they'd be two behind Chicago and doing themselves no favors coming up on the stretch run, especially with a game against the Giants in New York coming up next Sunday evening.

For the inconsistent Lions, they need this game to avoid falling to 4-6. There are lots of mediocre teams sitting in that vicinity. If they lose today, the Lions would have to likely win all their remaining games to even keep open a chance of getting a wildcard spot with a 10-6 record. It's not likely that would happen, nor that the Lions would win out. Winning today to go to 5-5 would at least give them a lifeline.

Let's look at the matchups
For the Packers, they will likely be without six starters today including Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Bryan Bulaga. There has been a great deal of discussion on the radio call-in shows this week about whether Matthews or Bulaga is the biggest loss for today's game. Some feel that without the pass rush threat from Matthews, Lions' QB Matthew Stafford will have time to find WR Calvin Johnson and rack up yards and points; of course, CB Tramon Williams will have something to say about Johnson's success or lack thereof no matter what happens on the line. Others feel that the loss of Bulaga created two moves on the offensive line for the Packers: LG T.J. Lang moves to right tackle and back up Evan Dietrich-Smith fills Lang's spot at left guard. This obviously creates a different dynamic along the whole offensive line. More worrisome, however, is if additional injuries occur on the O-line there are only two backups to fill in: Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten. Can you say, "Yikes!"?

Back to the Matthews vs. Bulaga debate...My take is that knowing they would be without Matthews for this game, Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers will get creative with their schemes and personnel to still pressure Stafford and keep the passing game in check. As for the Lions running game, RB Mikel Leshoure, a 2011 second-round draft choice from Illinois, will be making his debut against the Packers. If the Packers let him get active, it could give the Lions enough balance to cause problems defensively for the Pack.

Early reports today are that the Packers will get WR Jordy Nelson back in the lineup. That would return the full complement of receivers except for Greg Jennings. In other words, pretty much the full set of weapons QB Aaron Rodgers wants and needs on the field, particularly against one of the worst secondaries around.

The trick here will be how effective the Packers newly configured line will be against a very good and disruptive front four of the Lions. If the Packers offensive line can't handle defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley especially, it will be a long day for Aaron Rodgers and the offense. That would open the door to the real possibility of an upset. Of course, if the Packers can generate any semblance of a rushing game with Alex Green and James Starks that will help considerably in all aspects of the game. Getting FB John Kuhn back today will also be a plus in pass protection and short yardage situations.

The oddsmakers have set the over-under for this game at 52 points, the third highest of any game this weekend. A shoot-out apparently is expected. I think that's the case as well, although I'd be on the "under" side of things. It seems as if, while acknowledging Detroit's desperate state and upset chances, most pundits are picking the Packers to win. The Packers are the unanimous choice of the ESPN pundits. I know, that should make us all nervous.

The Packers are 5-1 after their bye weeks under Mike McCarthy. McCarthy is also 11-1 against Detroit overall. You have to like those trends. Even without some of their best players on offense and defense, the Packers are the better team. They will, however, have to play like it for a full 60 minutes today to get the win. But win they will.

I'm calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!