Packers vs. Lions: Basics; 5 things to watch; views

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy greets Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell after the Packers' 34-27 win on Sept. 25. McCarthy and Caldwell meet again Sunday.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Ford Field (indoors).

Television: NBC.

Radio: AM-620 in Milwaukee, AM-1360 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network

Series: Packers lead, 99-68-7.

Line: Packers by 3.

Surface: FieldTurf.

Coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (121-68-1) vs. Detroit’s Jim Caldwell (55-45).


THEY MEET AGAIN: When DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle) sat out the Week 3 meeting, his rivalry against LT David Bakhtiari had to wait three months for resumption. The two players were rookies in 2013 when Ansah dominated Bakhtiari. In the two games, Ansah registered 2½ of the 3½ sacks allowed by Bakhtiari (the other was by DE Devin Taylor). In four meetings since then, Ansah doesn’t have a sack. “Not many people can beat Bakhtiari,” an executive in personnel said. “He’s got a magical way of holding and he doesn’t get caught. Everybody holds, but he is so good at it. His hands are in close and he kind of grabs that inside shoulder. He can take care of the inside with his hand and has enough athleticism to handle the outside.” As for Ansah, another scout said: “He beat (Dallas’) Tyron Smith for a sack. He works both sides. I’d probably go with Everson Griffen over him but it’s close.”

COMEBACK KIDS: This might very well be the Lions’ biggest game at Ford Field since it opened in 2002. The Lions haven’t won a division championship since their 30-20 victory over the Packers in the 1993 finale at the Silverdome gave them the NFC Central crown. This season, the Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter in eight of their nine victories but still won. The previous NFL record of seven was set by Indianapolis in 2009 when Lions coach Jim Caldwell was in charge of the Colts. “I do think our team has learned to close out games,” Caldwell said last week. “They’ve done as good a job as anybody in the history of football in terms of coming back when things are a little tough. ... They’ll fight you. They’ll battle against anybody. They’ve got a chance."

KEY TEST: When the teams met in September, LB Clay Matthews didn’t play (hamstring-ankle). It was the third game for LT Taylor Decker, a rookie first-round pick who gave up sacks to Nick Perry and Kyler Fackrell. “I think Decker is probably better than anyone in scouting thought he would be,” said one personnel man. “He really does a pretty consistent job. He’s not going to be a clinic blocker at this point, but he’s pretty good playing against good people. But Matthews will be a challenge for a lot of people.” Another scout said Decker’s only real shortcoming is containing the speed outside rush.

TOUGH GUY: Those with long memories might remember TE Matthew Mulligan, a veteran free agent who was with the Packers from before the draft in 2013 to the last cut in late August that year. In a remarkably persistent career, Mulligan is with his 10th team since entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2008. The Lions signed Mulligan Nov.1 after TE Cole Wick went on injured reserve. As the main backup to Eric Ebron, Mulligan has played 149 snaps in seven games. His first reception was Monday night against Dallas. What Mulligan does extremely well is block; the Packers haven’t had a better blocking tight end than him in years. “He’s a tackle that plays with an 80 (82) jersey number,” said one scout. “Physical blocker. Extremely strong.”

MORE WITH LESS: Until the Cowboys game six days ago the Lions’ defense had been one of the foremost overachievers in the league. There were no Pro Bowl players on the unit, and the Lions have just 25 sacks. Still, they had been difficult to score on until Dallas exploded for 42 points. “How are they doing it?” said one scout. “Being in games, making stops late … no guy on defense jumps out. Look at their linebackers. (Tahir) Whitehead, (Josh) Bynes and (DeAndre) Levy, and Levy looks like he’s done. In their front, they’ve got (Ziggy) Ansah but he really hasn’t had that big a year. (Haloti) Ngata is on his last legs. I think it caught up to them against the Cowboys. That’s a heck of a (coaching) job.”



The schedule-maker gave the Packers about 2½ more days of rest than the Lions. Yet, the Lions haven’t complained, at least publicly. Their personnel can’t begin to compare with the Packers', and Green Bay has a vast advantage in big-game experience. Blowout? If the Packers strike early, maybe. If not, expect another photo finish.


If quarterback Matthew Stafford's finger wasn't dislocated and cornerback Darius Slay's hamstring weren't balky, the Lions would be my pick. Not having their best corner on the field, or at best limited, makes it difficult for the Lions to match up with the Packers' array of receivers. Stafford is going to put some points on the board, but it's going to be tough to keep up with Green Bay's offense. Packers 38, Lions 31


Here's to a shootout in the final game of the regular season. It would be a lot of fun to watch Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers air it out in perfect conditions. In the end, the Packers keep on rolling. Packers 38, Lions 31


So much depends on whether Detroit cornerback Darius Slay (hamstring) plays, and if he does, how well he can function. If he's not close to full speed, it's hard to see the Lions being able to slow Aaron Rodgers and his receivers. Based on the scant injury information available, the guess here is that he plays but he's not himself, and the Packers win. Packers 31, Lions 24


The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter in all but one game this season, and the Packers' defense usually has found an adventure in the final 15 minutes. So while it's a good bet the Packers will find themselves with a fourth-quarter lead Sunday night, there's also a good chance it won't be safe. Ultimately, Aaron Rodgers will find a way to make one play at the end, though maybe not as dramatic as his last trip to the Motor City. Packers 38, Lions 34

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