Opponent preview: Lions hope to build off 2014

Ryan Wood
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Since the turn of the millennium, the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions haven’t exactly shared a balanced series.

The Lions have beaten the Packers just six times in 30 games since 2000. None have come at Lambeau Field. Even at Ford Field, where the Packers have an 8-5 record since it opened in 2002, the Lions’ friendly confines have often been unkind.

It’s been more than 20 years since the Lions won three straight games against the Packers, somewhat amazing considering the two teams play at least twice every season. Entering 2014, it had been 15 years since the Lions even won two straight. That changed Sept. 21 when the Packers lost 19-7 at Ford Field, which represented their second straight loss against the NFC North rival.

Perhaps it’s a sign the Lions are starting to be competitive in the series, though last season’s finale — a 30-20 win at Lambeau Field — indicates they still have a long way to go.

The Lions haven’t won a game in Wisconsin since Dec. 15, 1991. When the Packers travel to Detroit on Dec. 3, the Lions will try to win three straight home games in the series for the first time since 2000. Here’s what to expect from the Packers’ division rival, a Lions team that may represent the best chance of knocking Green Bay off its NFC North throne.

Three things to know about the Lions

• Suh takes his talents to South Beach: The Lions had the NFL’s second-best defense last season, ranking only behind the Seattle Seahawks, and it gave the Packers fits during their first meeting in Detroit. The biggest reason, of course, was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The three-time All-Pro had 81/2 sacks and 46 tackles, consistently causing havoc in the trenches. The Lions will be without Suh this season after he signed a six-year, $114 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. How far the Lions’ defense slips this fall largely depends on how well Haloti Ngata — who the Lions got in a trade from Baltimore — replaces Suh.

• No flash in the pan: Jim Caldwell, the Beloit native who grew up rooting for the Chicago Bears, is no stranger to the black-and-blue division. Now, he’s entering his second season as the Lions’ coach, trying to build off a remarkable first year in Detroit. The Lions transformed into a disciplined — yet still edgy — team under Caldwell, making the playoffs with an 11-5 record a year after finishing 7-9. Success was fleeting in Caldwell’s first coaching job. He led the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl in 2009, his first season. They finished 10-6 the next year, then 2-14 without Peyton Manning in 2011. With his second chance, Caldwell will try to prove he can maintain his team’s success.

• A chink in Megatron’s armor: It’s almost impossible to poke a hole in Calvin Johnson’s game. Understand, the Lions’ All-Pro is the NFL’s most talented receiver, and it’s really not close. It’d be a stretch to say Johnson has slowed down at all — he’s made the Pro Bowl and caught 1,000 yards in each of his past five years, with three All-Pro nods in that span — but there’s reason to wonder how long he can sustain his dominance. Johnson, who turns 30 in September, has missed five games because of injury over the past two seasons. A nagging high-ankle sprain knocked him out of three games last year, and a slightly torn PCL forced him to miss two games in 2013. The best receiver in football isn’t getting any younger, and it’ll be interesting to see how long he can stay healthy.

Packers schedule glimpse

Week before: at Carolina, Nov. 8.

Week after: at Minnesota, Nov. 22.

On the horizon: Chicago, Nov. 26.

Detroit Lions

Coach: Jim Caldwell (11-5, second season).

2014 record: 11-5, 2nd NFC North.

Scoring offense: 20.1 points per game (22nd in NFL).

Total offense: 340.8 yards per game (19th).

Scoring defense: 17.6 points allowed per game (3rd).

Total defense: 300.9 yards allowed per game (2nd).

Series: Packers lead 57-39-4 (2-0 postseason).

Last meeting: In last season’s finale, the Packers snapped their two-game losing against the Lions with a 30-20 win. It was the biggest game of the regular season, allowing the Packers to clinch their fourth straight NFC North title and a first-round bye. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers memorably left the field with a sore calf after throwing a first-half touchdown to Randall Cobb, but he returned in the second half to seal the win. Rodgers finished with a gutsy, efficient 17-of-22 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

— and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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