It’s only Week 3, but there’s already a potentially pivotal matchup for the Detroit Lions with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers coming to Ford Field Sunday afternoon.
You want to chance to win the division? Beat the Packers.
Here are three storylines to follow plus a prediction:
— Since the Lions’ last division championship in 1993, the Packers have won 10, including the last three NFC North titles.
All four NFC North teams — Detroit, Green Bay, Chicago and Minnesota — are 1-1 after two games, but don’t be surprised if the Lions wake up Tuesday morning with a one-game lead on the other three.
Detroit is the only one of the four that is favored to win this week. The Lions are a 2 1/2-point chalk against the Packers, Chicago is a 2 Â½-point underdog Monday at the New York Jets, and Minnesota a 9 1/2-point underdog Sunday at New Orleans.
The problem for the Lions is that they rarely beat the Packers. Green Bay has taken 15 of the last 17 in the series.
"In order to get where you want to get to, you’ve got to get through Green Bay," Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "We know that."
The last time these division rivals met was on Thanksgiving last year when the Lions rolled to a 40-10 victory at Ford Field. One catch: Rodgers didn’t play because of a broken collarbone.
The rest of the Packers haven’t forgotten that one.
"I’m pretty sure they’re going to come hard," Detroit defensive tackle C.J Mosley said. "We gave them kind of a good whoopin’ last year."
The next two weeks will be revealing in the NFC North because after playing in Detroit, the Packers are at Chicago. Win both and Green Bay should be on track for yet another division championship.
— Rodgers is 9-1 in starts against the Lions with the only loss coming when he left the game in the first half with an injury in Detroit in 2010.
In those 10 games, he has passed for 19 touchdowns to five interceptions.
"The older he gets, the better he gets," Tulloch said of the 10-year veteran.
Look for Tulloch and Rodgers to continue their back-and-forth trash-talking throughout Sunday’s game.
"He likes to talk a little bit and I don’t mind that," Rodgers said. "I think it’s good-natured."
Tulloch undoubtedly will take a few shots at Rodgers’ latest State Farm commercial.
"We start pre-game," Tulloch said. "We’ll smack back and forth. We’re talking about the ‘Discount Double Check,’ how weak he looks in his commercials. It’s fun. I love playing against him. He’s a competitor."
Rodgers is coming off a three-touchdown, 346-yard passing day last week against the Jets in which he led the Packers back from an early 18-point deficit.
It’s clear who his favorite target is these days. Jordy Nelson was tied for the league lead with 18 receptions after two games, and ranked first with 292 receiving yards.
In trying to contain Rodgers and the passing game with a banged-up secondary, the Lions will have to pick their poison.
"You try to pressure him, he’s going to hurt you," Detroit linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. "You try to sit back in coverage, he’s going to hurt you."
Best solution: Score a bunch of points and try to win a shootout.
— Except for a couple drives, the Lions’ run game has been stuck in mud so far.
Detroit is averaging only 73 yards per game rushing (ranked 28th in the NFL) while gaining 3 yards per carry (29th).
Coach Jim Caldwell called improving the run game "a must" for his team.
"You like to be over 4 yards a carry," Caldwell said. "That gives you a chance to be pretty productive week in and week out.
"In this league, you have to be able to run the ball consistently in order to be a real good football team."
Easier said than done at times, especially for the Lions over the years.
"If it was just one simple thing, we could correct it rather quickly," Caldwell said. "We run a variety of plays and the breakdowns have been different locations, different issues, whether it’s a second-level blocker or first initial contact on the line of scrimmage.
"I just think, like anything else, you achieve what you emphasize and that’s going to be a strong emphasis for us, not only in terms of this game but every game."
The solution could be in Green Bay’s defense. The Packers have the second-worst run defense, allowing 176.5 yards a game on the ground, including 4.8 yards per carry.