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NFC North Championship Preview

Well, this is it. The game of the year for all the marbles in the NFC North is upon us. The Detroit Lions (9-6) will host the Green Bay Packers (9-6) at Ford Field on Sunday Night. The game will be on NBC in primetime as it was flexed due to its huge impact.

The winner of the game wins the NFC North and can earn the 3rd or 4th seed in the playoffs. Detroit could get a bye and the two seed if the Falcons and Seahawks lose at 4 PM on Sunday and the Lions win Sunday night.

The loser of the game could be out of the playoffs completely if the Redskins win on Sunday. If the Redskins lose, both teams will be in the playoffs but the losing team will have a tougher playoff starting as the sixth seed on the road. We watch football for games like this. Let’s take a look at the matchup breakdown.

Lions Passing Attack

Stafford has been in a slump in the last 2.5 games since he hurt his finger against Chicago. This injury may have saved the Packers season (along with a five game winning streak) and cost the Lions 2 road games. Stafford had a 100.5 rating before the injury. Four picks, 59% completion with 0 passing TDs later, Stafford has dropped to a 93 rating.

Stafford must try to minimize the impact of his injury and have a huge game to win the NFC North. Stafford has the weapons with Golden Tate (1,000 yards, 562 yards of YAC and 3 TDs), Marvin Jones (854 yards and 4 TDs with 17.1 YPC), Eric Ebron (650 yards in 12 games) and Anquan Boldin (527 yards and 7 TDs). Marvin Jones had a 200 yard day against Green Bay in Week 3. Detroit has the firepower to destroy the Packers.

The Lions must get the protection from their offensive line to have Stafford tear up the Packers secondary. Travis Swanson should return which will boost the Lions protection and run game and move Graham Glasgow back to left guard. Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Julius Peppers are formidable rushers. However, the Lions offensive line should be able to handle them at Ford Field.

The Packers secondary struggles and allows a 95.9 QB rating with 8.0 yard per attempt and 64.9% completion. Green Bay struggles to cover especially if they don’t get pressure. Detroit must pick apart this secondary and LB coverage. Detroit will miss underneath weapon Theo Riddick but Detroit still has plenty of firepower. Look for 350 yard and 3 TDs from Stafford.

Detroit Run Game

Detroit has struggled to run the ball since the injury to Ameer Abdullah. However, Detroit ran well in two of the last three games. Detroit must run well to control the clock and maintain long sustained drives. Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner will be called upon again in this game. If Detroit runs like they did against Chicago and Dallas, they can score 30 points in this game.

Lions Pass Defense

Aaron Rodgers is an extremely hot QB right now. Rodgers has 11 TDS and 0 interceptions in the Packers current five game winning streak and a 102.7 QB rating on the season. Rodgers leads the league with 36 TDs with 7 interceptions and 65.5% completion. He’s having another monster and possibly MVP season.

Detroit allows a 105 QB rating which is worst in the league. However, they are 16th in yards allowed. Detroit has played much better in the secondary the last six weeks until Week 16. Detroit was missing Darius Slay (and Quandre Diggs) and got torched by the Cowboys.

Darius Slay practiced Wednesday and should play on Sunday (which is his birthday). Nevin Lawson has had a good season and Glover Quin is a good free safety. Detroit’s LB coverage has much better with the return of Josh Bynes and DeAndre Levy to the lineup.

Detroit must get good games out of nickel CB Asa Jackson (or newly signed Crezdon Butler/Alex Carter). Detroit’s other safety in Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew must step up as well. Wilson and Killebrew have been good players tackling opponents short of first downs. Detroit must continue to tackle well and not allow any deep balls by Rodgers.

The key, as always with Rodgers, will be pressure with four front players. Ziggy Ansah is finally to get a little healthier with 2 sacks in the last two games. Ansah has been much more disruptive. Kerry Hyder has 8 sacks on the season but has cooled lately. Devin Taylor has 4.5 in a disappointing season but has revenge on his mind after a bogus facemask call last year. These players must win their matchups against Bakhtiaria and Bulaga. Bulaga is battling a shoulder injury which should help Detroit.

Haloti Ngata has been getting some pressure but must do more. Tyrunn Walker, Kyrhi Thonrton and A’Shawn Robinson can beat the Packers interior offensive line. If Detroit can get interior pressure, Rodgers can be rattled. It would be nice if Detroit could get their 11th interception of the year to slow down Rodgers. Two interceptions would win the game for Detroit.

The Packers have plenty of weapons. Jordy Nelson had a slow start but still managed 1,391 yards and 14 TDs in 15 games. Teams forget he is in the game and let him wide open. Darius Slay shuts him down though and that makes Rodgers panic. That will be the key matchup of this game.

Davante Adams had a good 3rd year with 966 yards and 10 TDs so far. Randall Cobb has 610 yards in the slot but missed the last game due to injury. The Packers hope to have him back for this huge tilt. Jared Cook is emerging lately with 321 yards and 1 TDs. Richard Rodgers finally showed up against the Vikings in Week 16. Green Bay has plenty of weapons. The Lions LBs and safeties can cover the TEs. Slay can cover Nelson. Lawson has frustrated Adams in the past. If Detroit gets solid pressure, they win this game.

Packers Run Game

Green Bay runs at 4.5 YPC. Ty Montgomery made the transition well and has 6.0 YPC. Christine Michael is an average 3.9 YPC as the second option. James Starks is recovering from a car accident and Eddie Lacy remains on IR after carrying the Packers early in the season. Detroit’s run defense has been better in the second half of the season. Ezekiel Elliott ran well in Week 16 but Montgomery is far from Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line is much better than Green Bay. Detroit can stop the run and force the Packers to be one dimensional. If the Packers get the run game going, they could have a nice offensive day however.

Special Teams

Both Prater and Crosby are good kickers. Prater missed last week and must rebound at 30/34 on the year. Martin is an excellent punter and Detroit has been good in kick and punt coverage this season. Field position will be a huge factor in this game and Detroit should have the edge with their specialists. If Detroit can snag a kickoff or punt return touchdown, it would be a huge boost for the Lions.

Prediction

Detroit is the more talented team but will be dealing with an injured QB and RBs. The Lions must run the ball efficiently, protect Stafford and pressure Rodgers consistently with four man pressure. Slay must shut down Nelson. If Detroit executes, they will the NFC North and earn a home playoff game. There is no other option.

Detroit 27 Green Bay 24 (on a last second Prater field goal)