NFL Preview - Detroit (11-4) at Green Bay (11-4)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The postseason is already assured for both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers but plenty will be on the line Sunday when the rivals close the regular season at Lambeau Field.
The winner will not only claim the NFC North title and an all important first- round bye in the playoffs, it will have an outside chance of securing the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.
For Green Bay that would mean a win, coupled with a Seattle loss, while Detroit would need the triumph and setbacks from both the Seahawks and Arizona.
The Lions, however, face some daunting history as they approach the winner- take-all contest. The last time a Detroit team won in Wisconsin was in 1991, as the Lions have lost 23 straight in Badger State.
The two teams got here by both winning their Week 16 games.
The Packers clinched a spot in the playoffs for the sixth straight season on the backs of their defense, which limited Tampa Bay to 109 yards of offense in a 20-3 win over the hapless Buccaneers.
"This football team put itself in a great position to accomplish its goal, and that's to win this division," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
Green Bay's tough defense sacked Josh McCown seven times, including 2 1/2 from Clay Matthews and two from Julius Peppers. On the Bucs' last offensive play of the game, McCown was under duress and threw an interception to defensive lineman Datone Jones.
Offensively the Packers were led by Aaron Rodgers once again as the MVP candidate threw for 318 yards and a touchdown to Jordy Nelson. Rodgers completed 31-of-40 passes.
Nelson caught nine passes for 113 yards and fellow receiver Randall Cobb set career highs with 11 catches and 131 receiving yards. Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards on 17 carries, including a 44-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter.
For the Lions, Joique Bell's touchdown run in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference as Detroit won ugly, 20-14, in Chicago.
The Lions came into the game having been assured of a playoff spot in the first season with Jim Caldwell at the helm due to Philadelphia's loss to Washington the day before. It is the first time since the 2011 season that Detroit has made it to the postseason.
Matthew Stafford had a rough game as he went just 22-for-39 for 243 yards with a pair of red zone interceptions, while Reggie Bush also had a rushing touchdown for the Lions, who have won four straight to reach 11 wins for the first time since going 12-4 in 1991, the last year they beat the Packers outside of Michigan.
"I'm more concerned about victories at this time," said Caldwell. "I don't apologize for any victories and I said we didn't play well in the first half. I'm not concerned about anything other than that. I would have been really concerned if we didn't come back."
Green Bay leads the all-time series by a 94-67-7 margin but the Lions have won the past two meetings, including a 19-7 victory in the Motor City on Sept. 21 when Bush ran for 61 yards, including a 26-yard TD, and the stingy Detroit defense held the Packers to 223 total yards.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Playing in Green Bay is always daunting because Rodgers has been nearly flawless on his home field.
The Packers are 7-0 at Lambeau, averaging 41.1 points per game, and Rodgers has been lights out with a almost video-game-like 132.6 passer rating, the highest single-season home passer rating in NFL history.
If A-Rod keeps that pace up for one more he will be breaking his own record of 128.5 in 2011, and next of the list is, you guessed it, Rodgers at 126.4 in 2013.
"He's just certainly an exceptional talent, but he's also extremely familiar with the system that they run," Caldwell said. "I mean, he knows where everyone is. He delivers the ball quickly and on time. When he doesn't he's certainly capable of getting outside of the pocket and gaining ground on the ground with his legs, but then also finding open receivers down the field. I think his familiarity, and he's a good decision maker as well."
Detroit is better equipped than most to at least slow Rodgers down, entering Week 17 with the second-ranked defense in all of football, a group that allows just 295.9 yards per game. The Lions are also second in points allowed, surrendering only 16.8 per game and have the top-rated run defense (63.8 ypg).
"You just know it's going to be a game where you have to be very efficient throwing the ball," Rodgers said. "You have to look for those opportunities for extended plays in the run game and the pass game."
Another development that could trend toward Detroit is Rodgers' health as the veteran has a lingering calf issue and has also been battling with the flu.
"We have a full-plate game plan and I'm confident he'll be able to run it," McCarthy said.
The Packers have the best turnover differential in the NFL at plus-15 and has given it away just 11 times all season, on pace to be a franchise record and just one above the all-time NFL record of 10 miscues set by the 2010 New England Patriots and matched by the 2011 San Francisco 49ers.
Before this season Detroit was known primarily as an offensive team but the Lions are just 20th in total offense at 326.7 ypg and Stafford has been below average away from Detroit with a 72.8 road passer rating.
The Lions will also be without veteran center Dominic Raiola, who was suspended for stepping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson in Week 16. Rookie third-round pick Travis Swanson is expected to make his first start.
"I'm always drawing up on old experiences, where we've had guys in the first part of the season that were young players, rookies that stepped in and played for us on some very good teams," Caldwell said. "I think for the most part, we expect (Swanson) to be good, we expect him to get his job done."
The game will mark the first time since the 1993 season in which two teams with at least 11 wins will play each other in the regular-season finale to determine the division champion (Dallas at New York Giants, January 2, 1994).
"Any time you get to play for a division championship, especially in the NFC North, it's huge," said Lions guard Rob Sims. "It's going to be a good one."
This is a hill just too big for the Lions to climb, however. Green Bay has won 22 consecutive regular-season home games against Detroit and 23 consecutive overall if you count a 1994 playoff triumph at Lambeau. Add in the fact that Stafford has been under whelming on the road this season and you have a recipe for the fourth straight NFC North crown for the Packers .
"I think playing in a playoff-type game is exactly how you want to go into the playoffs," said McCarthy. "It's great that we're playing for the division title. I think this is exactly how you'd want it. I know this is the way I'd prefer it."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 33, Lions 20
12/28 09:02:06 ET