Sure, the plights of the Lions and Packers are perfectly teed-up for “turkey” jokes: the Cheeseheads are o-fer on the month, resorting to fourth-stringer Matt Flynn at quarterback while the Lions are coming off back-to-back losses, including a defeat at the hands of the lowly Buccaneers. Heck, Nate Burleson’s ill-fated pizza endeavor serves ample material in itself.
But this is a holiday for counting blessings, and regardless of rough courses as of late, both NFC North squads should consider themselves fortunate. The Motor City is in prime position to capture its first division title since 1993, and, despite the absence of Aaron Rodgers in November, the Packers remain in the playoff hunt. With these Black and Blue rivals meeting in Motown on Thursday afternoon, let’s gather around and give thanks, for even if Rodgers remains sidelined, this battle should provide a nice distraction from your black sheep uncle’s rant about his tribulations at the Denver airport on his way into town. Here are the key things to watch in the FOX NFL Thanksgiving matchup between the Green Packers and Detroit Lions:
Spotlight: Reggie Bush and Joique Bell
Following a strong showing out of the gate, it appeared Detroit had finally found a semblance of ground continuity in Bush and Bell. Alas, those feats were ephemeral. Bush has struggled with injury and ball-security woes, with Bell dealt a decreased role in the Lions attack. Combined, the duo spearheads a rushing game averaging 103.7 yards per contest, 22nd in the league.
In fairness, the dexterous Bush has been a dependable entity in the receiving forum, hauling in 40 balls for 383 yards, and Bell has made the most of his opportunities when given the chance. However, if the Lions hope to do damage in January, they will need to curtail Matthew Stafford’s aerial forays. Elevated efforts from Bush and Bell will lessen this burden on Stafford, and more importantly, bestow downfield room for Calvin Johnson and the Detroit receiving corps to roam. The Packers have been so-so against the run, allowing 115.5 yards per game (19th), granting a good litmus test for the Detroit backfield.
Matchup Watch: Eddie Lacy versus the Detroit front seven
Green Bay’s Flynn has been dumped by the Seahawks, Raiders and Bills in the past 10 months. The Lions secondary is relinquishing 276.8 passing yards per game. You know the paradox of “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Yeah, this isn’t that.
What will provide interesting theater is the Lions’ ability to impede the rookie Lacy. Since returning from a concussion, the Alabama product has been one of the best at his position, averaging over 94 yards in his last eight outings. Considering Lacy has accomplished such feats with a quarterback carrousel under center, none of which has alleviated the focus of the opposing defense off the Packers running game, is further testament to his display.
Waiting for Lacy will be a Detroit resistance that ranks fourth against the run, holding adversaries to 88 yards per game. Although this may appear like an upshot of the Lions’ porous passing defense, a mark of 3.8 yards per attempt, ninth-best in the NFL, supports Detroit’s efficiency in soil ventures. This Lacy-Lions soiree will likely dictate the outcome of the ballgame.
Burleson’s return: genuine or aberration?
Going to cop-out and say both. Burleson is infamous for his inconsistency, and at age 32, it’s highly doubtful that a newfound sense of stability has hit the wideout. Nevertheless, Detroit sorely needs a complement to Megatron, a role that Burleson can aptly fill. It’s also worth noting that, in his abbreviated appearances this fall, Burleson has 33 targets in four games, amassing 26 catches and 316 yards. Providing a viable option to Johnson should go ways in eradicating Staffford’s fickleness. If Burleson can satisfy this proviso, watch out. (While we’re here, kudos for Burleson for paying homage to his embarrassing car crash after last week’s touchdown grab. But if you’re going that route, go the full distance. At the least, he should have brought out a pizza box, mimicked driving and proceeded to wreck into the goal post. I don’t ask for much.)
The Packers win if…
Lacy keeps the Detroit offense on the sidelines, Stafford is careless with the pigskin, Flynn hops in Doc Brown’s DeLorean to January 1, 2012.
The Lions win if…
Stafford and Johnson exploit a Green Bay secondary ranked in the bottom third in pass defense, the Detroit front seven hassles Flynn, Ndamukong Suh refrains from challenging the entire Packers offensive line to a brawl. (Actually, who are we kidding, that would be fantastic.)
I’m in the minority of folks that believe Flynn can instill a calming presence in the shaky waters of the Green Bay offense. However, I think Detroit awakens from its two-week slumber…Lions 27, Packers 24
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall