The final game of the regular season is here, and the Packers and Lions have everything to play for. The winner gets the NFC North division title and a first round bye before hosting a playoff game. The loser gets a wild-card spot, no bye week, no home game, and a potential trip to Dallas next week. The Packers have struggled against the Lions in Detroit in recent years, but the Lions haven’t won in Lambeau since December of 1991. The Packers are a different team from the one that lost iat Ford Field in week 3. The offense is more balanced, Rodgers’ protection is much more consistent, and the defense has taken a huge step forward since the bye week. The Lions’ defense is still a tough nut to crack, however, as they rank number two in total defense, and number one against the run. This promises to be a great game as the two rivals will fight like dogs to get the win.
Calvin Johnson vs. Sam Shields
The Lions don’t have a good running game this season, but when Calvin Johnson is healthy, the passing offense is hard to stop. Despite missing four games to injury, Calvin Johnson has accumulated 1,038 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s the leading receiver in the league’s 11th overall passing attack. Johnson’s size, 6’5”, and speed make him difficult to cover.
In the first match-up with the Lions this season, The Packers used a combination of Sam Shields and Davon House to neutralize Johnson. Shields got a majority of the snaps and House was able to nab an interception as they held Johnson to 6 catches and 82 yards. As a result, Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford was limited to 246 yards, no touchdowns and 2 interceptions on the day. Expect a heavy dose of Shields against Johnson again with lots of help over the top from safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. With Davon House listed as “out” on this week’s injury report, Johnson may have the chance for a big game.
Nelson & Cobb vs. Darius Slay & Rashean Mathis
The Lions’ defensive backs will also have their hands full when they line up against Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis have been a solid tandem at cornerback for the Lions this season. They have a combined 96 tackles, 3 interceptions and 26 passes defended. They’re part of a great defense that ranks 13th in passing yards allowed.
They will have their work cut out for them this week, though. Nelson and Cobb each have over 1,200 yards receiving and 10 or more touchdowns. Neither one of them had a big game against the Lions the first time around. The dynamic receivers combined for 8 catches and 88 receiving yards in the week 3 match-up. Both will need to find ways to get open in order to expose this stingy Lions defense.
Aaron Rodgers vs. The Four-Man Rush
The Lions defense doesn’t blitz very often. They usually send their four defensive linemen after the quarterback without any linebackers. It’s difficult to execute, but the Lions can do it as well as anyone as they rank 6th in the league with 41 sacks. As a result, the linebackers and safeties are able to spy, ready to help in coverage or stop the run. And stop the run they have. Entering the final week of the season, they are the only defense that has not allowed 1,000 yards rushing.
Rodgers has had well-documented issues playing against defenses that can generate pressure by only rushing four. The Packers have run into three defenses this year that have been able to do that, and they have lost all three times. Rodgers combined stats against the Seahawks, Lions and Bills this year are 56 completions on 102 attempts for a completion percentage of 54.9. He threw 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and was sacked 6 times. Rodgers will have to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and use his running game and play action fakes to tame the pass rush.
Travis Swanson vs. Packers’ Interior Pass Rush
The Lions’ veteran center Dominic Raiola will miss this game through suspension after stomping on the leg of Bears defensive lineman Ego Ferguson in week 16. Now the Lions will have to rely on rookie Travis Swanson. Swanson has played sparingly for the Lions and most of his snaps have been on special teams. Now, he’ll need to step in as a starter in the Lions’ biggest game of the season and slow down a pass rush that has been hot in recent weeks. The Packers like to send rushers up the middle and Swanson will be asked to stop the likes of Clay Matthews, Datone Jones, Sam Barrington and Mike Daniels. It’ll be a tough task for the untested rookie.
Corey Linsley vs. Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh had two tackles and a sack against the Packers in week 3. It wasn’t his best statistical game, but he and his fellow linemen were able to put up enough pressure to throw Aaron Rodgers off his game. Suh has amassed 46 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 8 qb hurries this season. As usual, the Packers o-line will have their hands full.
Rookie center Corey Linsley will be lining up across from Suh almost the entire game. Linsley has been impressive this season; he has started every game and only been penalized three times, and has only given up one sack. The Packers also rank 6th in the league in rushing when running up the middle. So the rookie has been top notch in pass protection and opening running lanes. He’ll have to do both against one of the best defensive tackles in the league in order for the Packers offense to perform against that stalwart defense.