Sunday’s game between Green Bay and Detroit may be the game to watch to close out the season. At least, that’s the hope. Everyone wants to see a battle, and after all, this is the fight for their postseason lives. A lot of teams are making the conservative decision to sit their starters in the 4th quarter, if not sooner. These teams don’t have that luxury. If the Lions do end up pulling this off, I expect to hear, “Why didn’t Green Bay keep their starters in?”, “The refs ruined the game for the Packers!”, and perhaps even “Detroit cheated!”. My bet is on these to be the top five on Monday morning.
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This weekend will determine the fate of several teams. The AFC seems to have their bracket pretty well set, unlike the NFC, where only 4 teams have earned their ticket, still room for a lot of movement. I’m not going to write the whole list, so here’s how it shakes out.
In a division clincher, the Lions and the Packers have to take the bull by the horns and control their own destiny. What everyone will be holding their breath for is to see who takes the bull. The loudest opinion is that the Packers will run roughshod over Detroit. Perhaps, perhaps not. Detroit has more to fight for while Green Bay has more to lose.
Fight for Your Spot
Green Bay has been to the big game a lot more than most. As a matter of fact they’ve won more Super Bowls than most teams have even seen. So the expectation for them is to make it to the playoffs. Every year, right? The team is good enough, they have talent and experience, one of the best QBs in the league today, and an ever-increasing arsenal for Aaron Rodgers to play with. They’ve played in every postseason for the last decade, save one. It’s the safe bet.
Detroit’s fight is for a different reason. It’s been a long time since the Lions have seen any success in the playoffs, a full quarter-century since they have even won a game. That’s A game, not even THE game. Their opponent made it to the playoffs both times that Detroit did, and even went to the NFC championship one of those years. A couple of teams have a longer drought and worse record than the Lions…but not many. To most people, using the words “Detroit Lions” and “playoffs” in the same sentence is the definition of irony, unless there’s a joke in there somewhere. But reality, folks, Detroit is tied with Green Bay for the 4th best record in the NFC, ahead of an already clinched NFC West champ Seattle Seahawks! And in Week 16, no less! This is worthy of hope.
Is it even possible? It might not be. But the Lions have shown up in so many games this season that created shock and awe, anyone would be a fool to count them out. Matthew Stafford has more 4th quarter comebacks than any other quarterback this season. Eight late wins this season. EIGHT! That means if they keep themselves together, they can pull off one more.
While Detroit holds the comeback record, Green Bay perhaps holds the biggest fulfilled promise of the season. With a win this weekend, they will in fact run the table. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have been on a hot streak to spearhead that run, so having Darius Slay back in the secondary can make a huge difference for Detroit. Slay may have a tough time if he’s matched up against Nelson. Then again, he may shine. He made a game-saving pick when matched up against Adam Thielen, Minnesota’s top receiver, to produce a game-winning drive against a 5-2 Vikings team. The Lions will need that magic. And they’ll need to keep penalty flags in check.
Logic dictates that Green Bay plays half a game and sits their starters in the second half. Since neither of these teams have that luxury, and Detroit knows that, their starters will likely play the whole game this weekend. That might push them over the top, but Mike McCarthy is no inexperienced 1st-year coach, he knows better than to lose this game. Depending on how late he notices, he might give the Lions a chance to pull away. Green Bay hasn’t proven themselves to be a 2nd half team, a major factor against an opponent like Detroit. They’ve only outscored opponents 4 times in the 4th quarter that resulted in wins this season. Three games have seen desperate 4th quarter comebacks fall short. Other than that, they battle in the first half and cruise through the second.
Fight or Flight? Who Wins
Which instinct is stronger, Detroit’s need to get back to the post-season and prove that they’re finally a good franchise, or Green Bay’s drive to make every season count? It’s not fair or accurate to call this until we know who the starters are. As with every week, the team that shows up will be the winner. Detroit has more to fight for so they’ll keep it close. If Stafford can balance the run game with passing, they have the best chance. If not, this game goes to Green Bay. Run the game, Lions, not the table, that part doesn’t matter anymore.