By Michael Ferro
The Detroit Lions came out strong during their high-profile Monday Night Football match up against the league-leading Dallas Cowboys, but ultimately lost big time and saw their chance to clinch the NFC North a week early fade away. Now, as the final game of the 2016 regular season is upon us, it comes down to a showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions in the Motor City.
It’s been 23 years since Detroit has won the NFC North. Despite leading the division for a good portion of the season, the Lions now find themselves at risk of losing it all. They will face a Packers team that has battled back from tough losses to earn a string of victories with an eye on the playoffs. The prize for the winner of this game is the title and a chance to have a shot at the Super Bowl. If Detroit cannot manage to earn a win, they’ll have only themselves to blame.
Packers Season Record: 9-6
Green Bay has won five-straight games to come back from the third-place spot in the NFC North. And while the Packers may be on the opposite trajectory of the Lions, looking to make it six straight for a division title, Detroit does have the home advantage for this final game of the season. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has an edge over Matthew Stafford when it comes to playoff experience and closing the deal at the end of the season, and the Packers have had their eye on the playoff prize for five weeks.
Packers on Offense
When Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers helped his team steamroll over the Vikings last Saturday, he also scored his highest total quarterback rating since their Week 3 win against the Lions. Rodgers remains in the top five QBs in the league at No. 4, and his talented offense is looking to help contribute to those numbers. As a whole, Green Bay now sits at No. 8 in the overall power rankings while Detroit has fallen after two-straight losses.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson continues to lead the team with 91 receptions for nearly 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns, though Rodgers has proven that he can get the job done with a slew of targets. The Green Bay ground game isn’t as impressive as their passing game, but if Rodgers hits his marks, they likely won’t need to rely much on running the ball.
Packers on Defense
With 38 sacks and an impressive number of tackles for loss, the Packers live up to the reputation of their dominant defense. This season has been one of ups and downs, but throughout the last five games, the secondary for Green Bay has been nothing short of fantastic. They’ve nabbed 16 interceptions (eight more than their opponents this season). At a time where Matthew Stafford’s injured throwing hand seems to have compromised his regular pinpoint accuracy, it doesn’t look good for Detroit. Stafford will need to rely heavily on his offensive line to give him extra time to find his targets.
Players to Watch: WR Jordy Nelson & QB Aaron Rodgers
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been one of the best QBs in the league for years and 2016 is no different. He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards this season and has 36 touchdowns to boot. As the No. 4 quarterback in the league, the Lions will have their hands full.
Wide receiver Jordy Nelson may be Rodgers’ favorite target as of late, but that doesn’t mean that Detroit should overlook the rest of the receiving core. If Nelson is covered, expect Rodgers to still be able to make a play.
After two-straight tough losses against top NFL teams in Dallas and New York, Detroit will have to muster some incredible fortitude to head into this game with high morale. Despite the losses, the Lions still control their own fate, and the winner of their final game in the season will be headed to the playoffs. For the Lions, despite the two recent losses, it would be an incredible ending to a historic regular season of memorable comebacks.
Perhaps the losses are meant to come as a reminder that, despite being down, Detroit in 2016 will be remembered for coming back and winning in the end—predestined to conquer Green Bay and win it all…or perhaps it could really be just another lost dream for a Lions team that came oh-so-close.