Though much has yet to be sorted out when it comes to this year's playoff picture, there's one thing I'm reasonably certain about: a 9-6-1 record won't get the Packers into the playoffs.
Yep, stranger things have happened, like the Seahawks squeaking in at 7-9 a few years back, but that's far and away the exception to the rule. To get in, you've got to win.
Of course, win is just about the only thing the Packers haven't done since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. They've switched quarterbacks, rotated offensive linemen, relied on practice squad receivers, done different things on defense, tried fake punts, switched quarterbacks again, ran Eddie Lacy about a million times, called to see if I wanted to play quarterback, and eventually just resorted to losing all the time except when they tie. It's been a weird month.
Though Rodgers returned to practice this week on a limited basis, he's not going to play Thursday, so to keep their ever dwindling playoff hopes alive, the Packers will have to win without him. It's just one time, but they haven't made it happen yet, and this may be their toughest test yet.
5 - Sacks by rookie defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a prospect considered so raw around draft time that his own mother didn't even know he couldn't be drafted by more than one NFL team. Ansah's five sacks represent a quarter of the Lions' sack total this year, which is rather remarkable considering how highly regarded their defensive line is around the league. Still, even if the numbers aren't spectacular for the rest of the members of the unit, Ansah and the rest of the defensive line remain very dangerous.
4 - Multi-touchdown games by Calvin Johnson, the Lions mega-super-ultra-star receiver. The Packers managed to avoid Johnson in their first meeting with the Lions this year, but there's no such luck this time around. With Sam Shields recovering from a hamstring injury, it'll be up to a rotating cast of defensive backs to slow Johnson down. Good luck with that.
3 - Games in which Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin has had six or more receptions. Boykin has been one of the Packers' more pleasant surprises this year, stepping up big in the absence of Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley. He's averaging 6.8 catches and 73.4 yards per game over the last seven weeks.
2 - Players currently on the Packers who have logged a kick return of longer than 20 yards. One of them (Johnathan Franklin) was recently sent to injured reserve with a concussion/neck injury. The other (Micah Hyde) was moved off kick returns last week while he nursed a groin injury. Franklin, of course, was injured in relief of Hyde, but all of this is just a footnote to my larger point: the Packers are really awful at returning kicks.
1 - Lions quarterbacks to attempt a pass this season, while the Packers have had four. Not long ago, it would have been much less shocking for the shoe to be on the other foot. Matthew Stafford has been all but durable in his relatively short NFL career, while the Packers obviously have a long legacy of quarterbacks hardly ever getting hurt. That's obviously not the case this year, but the Lions and Packers are almost in the same boat record-wise. Still, I'd take the Lions' quarterback situation over the Packers any day.
Last Time - Packers: 22 Lions: 9 - October 6, 2013
It seemed like everything was coming up the Packers way as they easily dispatched the Calvin Johnson-less Lions. Aaron Rodgers had a pedestrian 274 yards, but Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards, Jermichael Finley had six catches, James Jones had a monster day (4 catches, 127 yards, 1 TD), Randall Cobb was a Swiss Army knife (4 catches, 35 yards; 2 rushes, 72 yards), and the Packers defense piled up five sacks, including two by the pre-injury version of Nick Perry. Life was good. Life...was good. Sigh.
Meet a Lion - Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah - 6'5", 271 lbs - DE - 1st NFL Season
If you were making a modern defensive end, he'd look a lot like Ezekiel Ansah. He's tall, but limber and explosive, much like Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants. Right now, he's more of an athlete than a football player, but as we've already discussed, he's been plenty effective. He'll have plenty of opportunities to make use of his prodigious athleticism this week against either a hobbled Don Barclay or a full-strength Marshall Newhouse. I hope Matt Flynn makes it through the game with both collarbones intact.
The Lions will win if...
...they play to their potential in any way, shape, or form. Right now, the Lions should just be a better equipped team than the Packers. They're dealing with far fewer injuries, match-up well with the Packers' weak spots, and (perhaps most importantly) they have their starting quarterback under center. This should be a win for the Lions.
The Packers will win if...
...Mike McCarthy pulls some kind of magic out of his hat for what could likely be the Packers' last stand of 2013. Much like the New England game in 2010, the Packers find themselves turning to Matt Flynn with their season on the brink, but unlike that game, their season will almost certainly be over if they can't come away with a win. The Packers will need everything to break their way for this to be a game.
The Pick - Lions: 28 Packers: 17
I just don't see a win in the cards. I hope I'm wrong. Yes, the Lions did lose to the hapless Buccaneers last week, but Tampa has been playing much better recently and aren't nearly as decimated by injury as the Packers are. For all intents and purposes, this should be a walk in the park for the Lions.
Tweet of the Week
"Oh hey guys. Just sittin' around with my trophy. No big."