3 things to watch in Week 17 vs. Detroit
Aaron Rodgers says he'll be fine, but nobody can know for certain how the quarterback's strained left calf will react once he steps onto the field. Rodgers mainly was confined to the pocket after tweaking the muscle early in last Sunday's 20-3 win over Tampa Bay.
Rodgers' game is predicated on being able to scramble and extend plays. That's when he and the Packers' offense are at their best. The defenses that have been successful against Green Bay's offense have been able to generate pressure with a four-man rush and keep Rodgers contained.
The Buccaneers established some pressure early, but couldn't sustain it. The Lions' defensive front with Ndamukong Suh, Ziggy Ansah and others will be a bit more of a challenge to neutralize. The Packers can take solace in how their offensive line has played of late.
Rodgers barely was touched in Buffalo two weeks ago and stayed clean outside of the second series against Tampa Bay. It won't be easy, but the Packers have enough offensive weapons to give Rodgers options. If Rodgers' mobility is limited, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he's confident they'll be able to adjust the game plan.
One more standout performance would go a long way in solidifying his case for a second MVP award.
The coaches change. The players shuffle. The streak lives. For 23 years, victory has eluded the Detroit Lions each time they've stepped foot inside the state of Wisconsin.
The Packers are 7.5-point favorites despite a disappointing 19-7 loss to the Lions in Week 3 at Ford Field. That result holds no bearing on today's encounter, but offers a glimpse into how the tides have turned in the rivalry.
The Lions no longer are pushovers in the NFC North with arguably the league's best defensive front. Detroit will need more output from its offense to pull off the upset, though. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has reduced his turnovers from 23 in 2013 to 14 this year, but still hasn't been able to get back to where he was during his 41-touchdown season in 2011. He'll also be without the only starting center he's known in Dominic Raiola, who's serving a one-game suspension.
The Packers' defense played pretty well against Detroit earlier this season and will be looking to parlay those successes into a 24th consecutive home win in the series. The Packers are 7-1 under McCarthy in Week 17 games and 4-0 when closing the regular season at home.
"For a while, the Lions were just a bad football team, so we just knew we were going to beat them. That's not the case anymore," left guard Josh Sitton said. "They're an extremely talented football team, and I think with Jim Caldwell over there, I think they're a more disciplined team and a really good football team. And we know it's going to be a tough challenge."
READY TO RUN
The Lions are the only defense in the NFL that hasn't allowed 1,000 rushing yards. The next closest is the Denver Broncos, who have allowed 1,209. It often has led to opposing offenses abandoning the ground attack.
The Lions' front is seeing a league-low 20.8 carries per game. No team has rushed for 100 yards against the Lions. Depth on their defensive line covers up blemishes in the secondary. Suh (46 tackles, 8½ sacks) has matured under Caldwell's watch. He has plenty to play for in the final year of his contract that carries a $22.4 million cap charge for 2014.
Ansah (44 tackles, 7½ sacks) is developing into a well-rounded force who can rush from anywhere on the line. The Packers catch a break with Nick Fairley missing his eighth consecutive game with a knee injury, but still will have to contend with former University of Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy, who's having a career year with 140 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
The Packers succeeded on the ground in the teams' last meeting at Lambeau Field, a 22-9 win on Oct. 6, 2013, but have rushed for only 100 yards without a touchdown on 40 attempts in their last two games against the Lions. Lacy wasn't on the injury report this week and seems to have put his hip and eye issues behind him.
"I think every game we feel that way," said center Corey Linsley of wanting to be able to run against the Lions' front. "We want to run the ball just because that's who we are, who we feel we are as an offensive line."