The Detroit Lions (4-7) come into Thursday’s matchup with the Green Bay Packers (7-4) playing their best stretch of football all season long after winning each of the last three contests. On Thanksgiving, the Lions carved up the Eagles' defense as if it were the turkey dinner, rolling up 445 yards en route to a 45-14 thrashing.
Green Bay, meanwhile, has lost four out of its last five games and has looked completely inept at times on offense during that span. How does that happen with a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers you ask? Struggling wide receivers, an injured offensive line and inconsistent play at running back have contributed to the poor play of late, and the Packers can ill-afford to fall another game behind in the standings to a surging Vikings team.
Safe to say this is a big one for both sides.
Green Bay at Detroit
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV: CBS/NFL Network
Spread: Packers -3
Three Things to Watch
Three weeks ago, the Lions were dead in the water. The team was sitting at 1-7 coming off of an embarrassing loss in London and people within the organization were being let go at a rapid rate. Fast-forward a month and the Lions are still in the cellar of the NFC North division, but in the midst of a very promising three-game winning streak that has featured much-improved play on both sides of the football. The defense has been reminiscent of the 2014 version that finished second in the NFL, giving up just 15 points per game over the last three weeks. On offense, quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a revelation with new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter calling the plays. During the three-game span, Stafford has a 106.5 QB rating, completing 65 percent of his passes and eight touchdowns compared to just one interception. The chances are slimmer than slim for the Lions to make a playoff run, but a win against the toughest remaining opponent on their schedule would go a long way.
2. Defense is the new offense
We are not used to thinking of the Green Bay Packers as a defensive juggernaut, but there is no debating that side of the ball has been the better of the two recently. With all of the attention being paid to the struggles on offense, the defense has been often overlooked, but is playing sound football despite the team’s recent losses. Over the last three games, the Packers have given up just 16 points per game and have been especially stout against the run. Green Bay held Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards on 13 carries in the 30-13 victory two weeks ago. With a Detroit offense that already struggles to run the football on a consistent basis, we could see Matthew Stafford throw 30-40 passes. That could also spell bad news for the Lions' offense as the Packers rank fifth in the league in sacks.
3. We meet again
The Lions pulled one of the biggest upsets of the NFL season, and possibly one of the most important victories (sadly) in the franchise’s history, in Week 10 when they snapped their 24-game road losing streak at Lambeau Field. What worked so well for the Lions in that rare road win against the Packers to make us think they could pull another upset of their division rival? Watch the matchup between the Packers’ receivers and the defensive backs for Detroit. The Lions played primarily press-man coverage the entire game, challenging the receivers at the line of scrimmage. Green Bay's wideouts were unsuccessful against this scheme, and looked frustrated throughout the entire game as they struggled to gain separation. Davante Adams, James Jones and Randall Cobb will have to win their individual one-on-one matchups for the Packers to sustain drives on offense.
Both teams have plenty riding on Thursday’s contest which should make for a compelling matchup. The Packers are still very much in contention for their fifth straight NFC North title, but do not want to chance falling two games behind the Vikings in the standings with a second straight loss to a divisional foe. For the Lions, the playoff mentality started three weeks ago and the team knows it likely has to win out for even a chance at making a run at a wild card spot. If the Lions can get after the quarterback as they have done the previous three games – likely to happen with Green Bay’s offensive line injuries – their stifling defense should continue its impressive run of late and contain a struggling Packers offense from breaking out.
Prediction: Lions 21, Packers 20
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.