Expect Best Effort From Desperate Lions in Motown

As we pick up where we left off, the Packers return to Motown with a bucketful of intangibles working in their favor:

Mike McCarthy is 11-1 against the Lions--the only loss came when Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game with a concussion. McCarthy is 5-1 in games after the bye. The Pack has had two weeks to prepare for this important division road game and most assuredly will be a bit healthier than the banged up unit we saw limp off the field two weeks ago.

But the Lions have something working for them too. They're desperate. Head coach Jim Schwartz prefers the term "urgent," but the fact is, they can only afford one more loss if they have hopes of a return to the post-season. It's going to take 10 wins to grab a wildcard spot and they're 4-5. Five of their last seven are at home (including winning teams like Packers, Texans, Colts, Falcons and Bears) and they still have the game at Lambeau to deal with.

They need this one or they're done. Like the Packers in Houston a month ago, the Lions know their season is on the line Sunday and I think they'll play like it.

The script for the Lions season has been fall behind, claw back late and either steal one (in Philly) or fall short (last week in Minneapolis). They're still a mess defensively, with an undermanned banged up secondary that actually added Pat Lee this week. It looks like starting safeties Louis Delmas and Amare Spievey will miss another week which means the defense is very beatable deep. Their corners are equally suspect: their best guy, Chris Houston hopes to play with a bad ankle, but missed practiced Wednesday and was limited on Thursday. Drayton Florence may play his first game since being placed on IR in September.

Provided that Rodgers is being protected, the Packers passing game should have its way with the Lions. But that's the key to this game. The front four is still very talented and have had their manhood questioned this week, Ndamukong Suh was told an unnamed NFC scout considers him "coddled" and that he doesn't demand excellence of himself. He hasn't played at his 2010 level, but something tells me we'll see a focused Suh on Sunday.

Of course, the Packers have a revamped offensive line, now that Bryan Bulaga is lost for the season. Most believe TJ Lang will move seamlessly to the right tackle spot. The question is whether "stompee" Evan Dietrich-Smith is up for the challenge of left guard. How ironic that his first start comes against his Thanksgiving Day date from a year ago. He and his linemates will be challenged to keep the strength of the Lions' defense away from #12. If former Packer Corey Williams can't go, Nick Fairley replaces him and he had a strong game against the Vikings last week. End Cliff Avril is expected to play (head injury); he and Kyle Vanden Bosch can still bring the pass rush.

The good news is the Packers offense is getting healthier. While Greg Jennings' return appears a few weeks away, it looks like Jordy Nelson is good to go, along with John Kuhn. A healthy Nelson is huge, since he provides the opportunities for plays downfield--a matchup advantage against the Lions' slow secondary. It will also allow emerging playmaker Randall Cobb to be used with much more diversity: in the backfield and all over the field.

Both teams will try to establish running attacks, with James Starks likely to get more opportunities and Mikel Leshoure bringing his big bruising body to the party. But neither team excels here and this game will feature two offenses that will move fairly effortlessly through the air.

The absence of Clay Matthews completely changes how Detroit game plans for this game. They don't have to pay special attention to one of the game's biggest playmakers. Dezman Moses and Frank Zombo will be charged with making plays and we'll see if Erik Walden will be noticed, now that he doesn't have Matthews and the attention he garners on the other side. Looks like Sam Shields will miss another game so Casey Hayward and Davon House will be on the field all day and will be charged with containing Titus Young and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The Packers allowed Blaine Gabbert to throw for 300 yards with Clay Matthews. Stafford could throw for 400 on Sunday.

Which brings us to Megatron. For some reason Tramon Williams has picked up the Optimus Prime mantle from Seahawk corner Richard Sherman. "I'm definitely Optimus Prime," Williams said. "I'm the leader of the young guys right now and when it comes to tough battles, I'll lead those guys out there." Why say that? Just go out and play. Calvin Johnson has had huge games and quiet games against the Pack. He's the best in the business and has locked in the past two weeks, with 19 catches for 336 yards. But he's only got one TD pass from Stafford this season.

What it comes down to is this: if Rodgers stays upright, the Packers win. If he's sacked 5+ times and is harrassed throughout, we've got problems. Rodgers' stats when playing indoors are beyond incredible. Last 8 dome games: 71%, 327 passing yards per game, 25 TDs vs. 1 pick and a passer rating of 127.9. He'll win a shootout and that's what I think this will be.

Packers 31 Lions 27


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