It's hard to believe, but in just over a month, this space will likely be devoted to a playoff preview, and there's a good chance the Packers will be matched up with someone they've already faced this year. Atlanta and San Francisco are the front runners for the top two seeds, but from there, it's all familiar faces, with Seattle, Chicago, New York, and of course Green Bay tentatively filling out spots three through six.
Where, exactly, those four end up is still under consideration; even San Francisco could lose its first round bye. But what is certain is this: assuming Green Bay ends up in the postseason tournament, they'll almost certainly be meeting an opponent they've played at least once this year already.
Fortunately, the Packers have a couple things working for them. First, while they've lost to the Gaints already and lost* to the Seahawks, Green Bay still sits at the number three seed, and assuming they win out, it's assured they'll stay there.
Secondly, the Packers have a relatively easy road to the playoffs, regardless of what seed they'll end up occupying. Along with this week's game against the Lions, who haven't won in Wisconsin in 20 years, the Packers have dates with a Chicago Bears team facing the loss of Brian Urlacher, the Tennessee Titans facing the fact that they're the Tennessee Titans, and the Minnesota Vikings, who will presumably still employ the 54th member of the Packers' roster, Christian Ponder.
Based on the records of their potential opponents, the Packers will probably have to go at least 3-1 to assure themselves a playoff berth, and that's probably a fairly realistic proposition. But it all starts this week, with the first game in the second trip through the Packers' NFC North schedule.
(Note: all of today's countdown items are based on the Packers' last meeting with Detroit, as detailed in the official NFL gamebook for that contest.)
5 - Receptions, for 143 yards and one touchdown, by Lions receiver Calvin Johnson when the Packers and Lions last met. Johnson thoroughly dominated Tramon Williams last time, and you can bet Williams is itching for another shot at Megatron. Unfortunately, Johnson is probably looking forward to another shot at Tramon Williams as well.
4 - Tackles, including two sacks, by Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who didn't hardly play fairly (HA! all the puns) with Evan Dietrich-Smith. Fairley clearly showed why he was a high draft pick in 2011, and thankfully (for the Packers at least), he's been hobbled by an injury of late. How much it limits his effectiveness and availability on Sunday remains to be seen.
3 - Consecutive productive outings for Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, dating back to the first Detroit contest. Finley had three catches for 66 yards and a touchdown that day, and since then he's had two more solid games, including a six catch, 60 yard day last week against Minnesota. Hopefully the trend continues Sunday.
2 - The number that defined the comparison between Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford last time out. Rodgers threw two touchdowns, while Stafford tossed two interceptions. Of course, it's not quite that simple: Rodgers also threw his own interception (a bad one, at that) and Stafford hooked up with Calvin Johnson for a big score. But Rodgers and Stafford have had starkly contrasting seasons, and their performances last time demonstrated that quite well.
1 - Interceptions by M.D. Jennings, notable in part because it was officially (because Seattle, duh) the first of his career and in part because he was able to return it 72 yards for a touchdown. The pick would have been the biggest play of the game if not for the game winning touchdown catch by Randall Cobb late in the fourth quarter.
Last Time - Packers: 24 Lions: 20 - November 18, 2012
Green Bay went on the road and took out a reeling Detroit squad, although it took considerable effort to do so. Nick Fairley was a disruptive force along the defensive line, taking advantage of the Packers' limited supply of competent linemen. Aaron Rodgers was less than sharp (just 19 of 27 for 235 yards), but he still got the job done, thanks in part to a good day by tight end Jermichael Finley (six catches for 66 yards and a touchdown).
Meet a Lion - Brandon Pettigrew - 6'5", 265 lbs - TE - 4th NFL season
Pettigrew might be the second best tight end in the NFC North, sitting behind second year pro Kyle Rudolph in Minnesota and perhaps just slightly ahead of Jermichael Finley in Green Bay. He's on pace for his lowest reception total since his rookie year, but he's still a big part of Detroit's passing attack. With Green Bay's thin linebacking corps, he may be able to find open spaces in which to roam this Sunday. That wasn't the case last time, as Pettigrew only grabbed four passes for 22 yards, but it's hard to ignore his prior productivity.
This video features both Pettigrew and fellow Lions tight end Tony Scheffler, but it should serve just fine to demonstrate how good Pettigrew can be.
The Lions will win if...
...their defensive line reprises their performance from the first game and their secondary can create one more turnover than last time. Nick Fairly can be a dominant force (although he's battling an injury this week), Ndamukong Suh is Ndamukong Suh, and Cliff Avril should be back to full strength this week. Combined with noted crazy person Kyle Vanden Bosch (and his crazy person red eyes), the Lions have an undeniably dangerous front line. How they perform this week may determine the outcome of the game.
The Packers will win if...
...their patchwork offensive line can rebuff the efforts of the formidable front line of Detroit. It seems fairly likely undrafted rookie Don Barclay will be making his first start this Sunday, and he'll have a pretty tough task keeping Aaron Rodgers healthy and throwing. If he can, the Packers probably have the upper hand. If not, the Packers may be in for a let down.
The Pick - Packers: 30 Lions: 24
This feels like a close one. The Packers are probably the better team, but dating back to the Detroit game, they haven't been super impressive. That's due in part to their injury woes, but they also haven't played tremendous football either. However, Detroit has hardly been a team of world beaters recently either, with the notable exception of Calvin Johnson. With that in mind, Green Bay gets the edge.
The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)
Broncos over RAIDERS REDSKINS over Ravens BENGALS over Cowboys Rams over BILLS BUCCANEERS over Eagles Falcons over PANTHERS BROWNS over Chiefs STEELERS over Chargers COLTS over Titans JAGUARS over Jets Bears over VIKINGS 49ERS over Dolphins SEAHAWKS over Cardinals GIANTS over Saints TEXANS over Patriots
Last Week: 11-5
Season Total: 132-57-1 (.695)
Tweet of the Week
Ryan Grant shows off his new kicks as he gets ready for his first practice in his second stint as a Packer. I like 'em!