Lions Look To Scratch a 22 Year Wisconsin Itch

There are some great time-tested rites of autumn: Honeycrisp apples, fall golf, raking leaves, carving pumpkins and the annual sacrificial visit by the Lions. Oh, there have been a few close ones. Remember the game a couple of years ago where a late Charles Woodson pick preserved a Packer victory? But the reality is only six of the past 21 games between these teams in Wisconsin have been decided by less than 7 points.

Of course, none of that matters this Sunday, when the two teams--who for now have flip-flopped in the standings--meet for the first time in 2013. But it will matter if the Packers jump on top early. Some of the veterans on Detroit may sense the inevitable and feel like they're snakebit in the land of cheese.

We don't know exactly what to make of this Packers team yet. We do know they're a much healthier bunch than the team we saw leave the field in Cincinnati. It looks like Clay Matthews will play, perhaps in a limited (passing situations) role. Morgan Burnett appears to be on track to make his season debut and you can't overstate what he means to the back end of the defense--and how vital it is to have him against a good offensive team like the Lions. And Eddie Lacy should be back. Wouldn't it be nice to see him finish a game? Forget that, let's just see him make it out of the first quarter. Expect Lacy and Johnathan Franklin to share the ball carrier duties this Sunday.

Let's look at the Lions, the current darlings of the media when it comes to first quarter surprises. There's no doubt the team is improved--it wasn't as bad as last season's record showed. Conventional wisdom has been that Calvin Johnson is the guy you have to worry about. That's not necessarily the case right now. He is still one of the top 3 receivers in the game, but he's dealing with a knee injury and didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday. He'll play Sunday, but he's not 100%.

This year, the arrival of Reggie Bush and the resurrection of Ndamukong Suh has been the talk of the league. Bush looks like Barry Sanders 2.0 so far and if he can stay healthy he'll ensure the Lions are one of the highest scoring teams in the league. He's still a threat as a receiver and on the edges, but he's also figured out how to run between the tackles, making him that much more difficult to defend. Suh as been challenged by fellow linemate Nick Fairley (the guy the Vikings should have drafted instead of Ponder), who has figured things out and has helped give the Lions the best front four in the business. Rookie Ziggy Ansah has made an immediate impact at end, but he's dealing with an abdominal injury.

That line will look to force Aaron Rodgers into mistakes, something the Bengals were able to accomplish in the Packers' last game. But Rodgers has had two weeks to think about that game, two weeks to listen to the media fawn over the triumverate of Manning, Brady and Brees. And he owns the Lions. He's 8-1 (the only loss coming when he was knocked out with a concussion) and usually finds little resistance through the air.

Behind the front four, the Lions are still very pedestrian. Steven Tulloch is a solid middle linebacker, but other than that....their top corner, Chris Houston, hasn't practiced all week (hamstring) and seems unilkely to play. They're very thin behind him,Rashan Mathis and rookie Darius Slay will start. They have improved at safety, with Glover Quin joining Louis Delmas, but both are dealing with injuries. They returned to practice on Thursday in a limited role.

At some point the Lions will win a game in Wisconsin, but it doesn't feel like this will be the year. Detroit is consistently very generous in our favorite state when it comes to turnovers and penalties--that won't change on Sunday.

Besides, Green Bay is very good in games after the bye: McCarthy is 6-1. He knows how to get his team back on point and he knows how to beat the Lions: he's 13-1 against them. The Thanksgiving Day game may be a tough one, but this one won't be. This team has had two weeks to think about the game they handed to the Bengals. They're ornery.

Packers 31 Lions 20


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