The Lions can’t stop Aaron Rodgers, so Matthew Stafford will have to outplay him

Aaron Rodgers is on a roll.

Over his last six games, the Packers’ quarterback is playing the best football that arguably anyone in the league has played all season, and the stats — while tremendous — don’t even properly show how good Rodgers has been since Green Bay was blown out by the Titans on Nov. 13 in Nashville.

Over Rodgers’ last six games, he’s posted an average quarterback rating of 119, scored 15 touchdowns (14 through the air, one on the ground), thrown zero interceptions, and has averaged 289 passing yards per contest and 8.49 yards per pass attempt.

Oh, and the Packers, once 4-6 on the season and in all sorts of disarray, have won five-straight games and head to Detroit with a chance to win the NFC North Sunday.

But for all the rightful talk about Rodgers’ great run and what it and Week 17’s game means for the NFL’s MVP race, his counterpart at quarterback this week has a chance to make an equally impressive push on Sunday.

It’s unlikely that the Lions will be able to do a thing to lock down Rodgers and the Packers offense in a winner-takes-the-division contest Sunday — the Lions have the worst pass defense in the NFL and a run defense that’s bottoming out fast. With one of the league’s worst pass rushes and only 10 interceptions on the season, the Lions are allowing quarterbacks to complete nearly 73 percent of passes this year, though you only needed to watch how easy it was for the Cowboys to score on Monday night to understand the poor form of the Lions defense heading into Sunday’s game.

Unless there’s some next-level self-sabotage on the Green Bay sideline or an injury to Rodgers, the Packers are going to put a solid chunk of points on the board Sunday — there’s not much the Lions’ woeful defense will be able to do to stop that from happening.

So if the Lions want to win the NFC North and guarantee a spot in the playoffs, they’re going to need Matt Stafford to be better than Rodgers on Sunday. 

That’s not a small ask, but Stafford is up to the task.

The problem is he hasn’t shown it since the Lions’ Week 13 win over the Saints. Since that contest, and against two pretty bad pass defenses in the Cowboys and Bears, Stafford has been a below-average quarterback.

Getty Images/Leon Halip

You can blame his injured middle finger on his right hand — that’s not a small injury (you’d never ask a baseball pitcher to throw with dislocated and torn ligaments in his middle finger) — but Stafford refuses to use it as an excuse for five turnovers and an average quarterback rating of 66.6 over his last three games.

And because Stafford says so, the finger is not an excuse. So Stafford has to be better, and the Packers will provide ample opportunity for that.

Don’t let Russell Wilson’s five-interception game a few weeks back fool you, the Packers’ pass defense has been pretty woeful in recent weeks (though one could argue woeful is an improvement over the team’s play before the winning streak started).

There’s a reason the Packers’ run defense was at one point the best unit, statistically in the league — no one bothered to run when it was so easy to pass (the same argument could be held against the new “No. 1 rush defense”, the Cowboys, today).

There are touchdowns and deep throws to Golden Tate available for Stafford, especially if center Travis Swanson is back in the lineup, but no one can say with an ounce of certainty if Stafford is capable of carving up Green Bay’s defense with his throwing hand in its current condition.

If Stafford remains ineffective, the Lions will rest their playoff hopes on Kirk Cousins’ performance against the Giants (which might be the advantageous position compared Washington’s).

But if Stafford looks like his old self and leads the Lions to the NFC North crown (and possibly a first-round bye), the late-season MVP buzz might swap sidelines at Ford Field.