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NFL Preview - Detroit (3-1) at Green Bay (1-2)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The high-powered Detroit Lions are at the top of the NFC North and now it's time to find out if the Honolulu Blue and Silver are really contenders or just pretenders.
Aaron Rodgers and the well-rested Green Bay Packers will entertain the Lions at Lambeau Field, a place which has been a house of horrors for Detroit over the years.
In fact the Lions haven't won in the Badger State in over 20 years, dropping 22 straight games (a streak which included one playoff contest) to the Packers in the state of Wisconsin, a record of futility which started with Green Bay's win over the Lions at County Stadium in Milwaukee on Dec. 6, 1992.
The Packers' 21-game regular-season home winning streak against Detroit is the longest in NFL history, ahead of Washington's 18-game run as the host over these same Lions, which was halted last month. Pittsburgh's 16-game run versus the Cleveland Browns, which spanned from 1970-85, is next.
The Pack have won 13 of 14 overall over the Lions since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach and the domination only increased after Rodgers took his place under center in Titletown. The All-Pro is 8-0 when he starts and finishes against the Lions, completing 169-of-246 passes (68.7 percent) for 2,239 yards with 18 TDs versus four interceptions in those contests.
Green Bay was off last week but comes into this contest at just 1-2 after a heart-stopping 34-30 setback at Cincinnati back on Sept. 22. The Packers trailed in that one 14-0 before Rodgers even touched the football and then scored 30 straight points before faltering and allowing the Bengals to close it out with 20 consecutive points, including 13 in the fourth quarter to win it.
Terence Newman returned a fumble 58 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:47 remaining before the Cincinnati defense came up with one last stop of A-Rod and company.
Green Bay was clinging to a 30-27 lead with less than five minutes to play and appeared to pick up a first down on 3rd-and-12 at the Cincinnati 29. A successful Bengals challenge on the spot pushed the ball back just shy of the marker and the Packers elected to go for the first down.
Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, however, was stripped of the ball just as he reached the line of scrimmage. Reggie Nelson initially picked it up, but had it knocked away by Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb. Newman, though, was right there to scoop it up and he raced untouched to the end zone.
Rodgers marched the Packers right into Cincinnati territory with a first down at the 25, but a 3rd-and-5 pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage and his fourth-down attempt was also tipped at the line and fell incomplete with 1:21 remaining to seal the contest.
The All-Pro completed 26-of-43 passes for 244 yards with a pair of interceptions and a touchdown for the Packers. Franklin was pushed into service when James Starks left with a knee injury and he responded with 103 yards on 13 carries. The one fumble, however, proved costly.
"(It) was obviously a very tough loss for our football team. I thought it was definitely a game of peaks and valleys, a lot of moments of adversity going through the start of the game and getting down 14-0," said McCarthy. "The way our defense responded, I really felt it picked our football team up generating takeaways, being able to come into halftime with the lead."
The Lions, meanwhile, are coming off a big 40-32 home win over Chicago behind Reggie Bush, who ran for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Bush carried the ball 18 times and also added four catches for 34 yards for the Lions, who snapped a three-game losing streak to the Bears and have now won two straight since falling to Arizona in Week 2.
"The offensive line did a tremendous job," said Bush. "We had talked all week about them being the key to our success. They did a great job and I really didn't get touched during the game."
Matthew Stafford was 23-for-35 for 242 yards with one touchdown, and an interception, but also added a rushing touchdown and fumbled the ball once for Detroit, which has won both its home games this season.
This contest will mark the 168th meeting (including playoffs) between the Packers and Lions since 1932 when the Detroit franchise was known as the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans. Green Bay has dominated almost from the get go amassing a 93-26-7 mark in the regular season and a 2-0 record in the playoffs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
History and a lot of it is against the Lions in the one. The Packers will enter having won eight consecutive regular-season games at Lambeau Field and 21 of 22 overall. During Green Bay's current eight-game run, they have outscored its opponents 249-130 and have a plus-5 turnover ratio.
Meanwhile, since McCarthy took over in 2006, the Packers have posted a 6-1 mark in the game after the bye, which is tied for No. 1 in the NFL over that span.
In his last six regular-season games, Rodgers has been ridiculous, connecting on 159-of-236 passes (67.4 percent) for 2,055 yards and 18 TDs with just three INTs for a 114.6 passer rating.
WR Randall Cobb has gone over the 100-yard receiving mark in four of those contests and running mate Jordy Nelson has posted 19.0 yards per catch over that span. This season Green Bay is third in the NFL with 454.7 yards per game and second in scoring average at 32.0 points.
Detroit, meanwhile, is banged-up on the back end and a trio of players in their secondary weren't able to practice early in the week: safeties Louis Delmas (knee), Glover Quin (ankle) and cornerback Chris Houston (hamstring).
"He's a guy that gets first downs and looks to gain even more. He can also create and throw and look downfield on the run," Schwartz said when discussing Rodgers. "It's not just about getting pressure on him or getting him out of the pocket. You have to be able to finish that. Our d-line can go a long way to help in our secondary. I think you've seen that in a couple of the games that we have played so far. When we get good pressure on the quarterback we get the chance to get turnovers and get drives stopped. It ties in to our third down stuff."
And that third-down stuff has been really good thus far. Through Week 4, the Lions currently boast the No. 1 third-down defense in the NFL, allowing only 10-of-47 attempts (21.3 percent).
For Detroit to win this one, though, it will have to be in a shootout and that's something the Lions are at least well-equipped for.
With Bush on hand to complement All-World receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions racked up 159 rushing yards in Week 4 vs. Chicago, the most by the team in nearly two years.
Bush, who ranks second in the NFL with 144.3 scrimmage yards per game after his big game against the Bears, will rarely see a loaded box because teams need to roll a safety toward Johnson at all times.
Stafford has also hurt the Pack in the past, throwing for a a club record of 520 passing yards and five touchdown passes in a 45-41 loss at Green Bay back on Jan. 1, 2012. Johnson also set a career-high with 244 receiving yards and matched his career-best with 11 receptions in that one.
Green Bay's back end is mediocre at best, meaning the pass rush will be key and star edge rusher Clay Matthews, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, has posted at least one sack in four of five career games against the Lions.
Detroit already stopped its ugly losing streak inside the Beltway last month but this figures to be much tougher. Since 2006 Green Bay has a 32-10 overall record (.762) in NFC North games and an 18-3 mark at home, including nine straight.
The Packers have also had the extra week to prepare so, although much- improved, the Lions could be running into a post-bye-week buzz against the well-rested Pack.
"It's the same mindset we have every time we play a road game," Stafford said. "Lambeau is a tough environment but it's no different than any other place."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 31, Lions 24
10/03 14:17:50 ET