The Packers are in the same position as they were last season, only it’s completely different. Once again Green Bay has a chance to clinch the division title in week 17. After clinching prior to the season’s last week in both 2011 and 2012 the Packers’ 2013 division title cam down to week 17 against the other team with a chance to win, the Chicago Bears. Last season, however the Packers were trying to battle back after losing Aaron Rodgers for most of the season. They were trying to go 8-7-1 and secure the 4th seed in the NFC. This season a win means a tie for the best record in the conference (12-4) and a first round bye. A loss means 3 road games would have to be won on the way to a possible Super Bowl berth.
I’ve always agreed with the idea that if you have a franchise quarterback in his prime your team starts with 10 wins. If an average team has a franchise QB it should go at least 10-6 every year. 10-6 almost always gets you in the playoffs. The Packers are an above average team and therefore have a chance at a 12-4 record. The additions of Julius Peppers and HaHa Clinton-Dix, the development of players like Corey Linsley and Micah Hyde as well as the reduction in roles of players like AJ Hawk and Brad Jones have made this a better team, regardless of the fact that Rodgers has been able to play all 15 games this season.
FootballOutsiders.com gives the 2014 Green Bay Packers a 14.5% chance of winning the Super Bowl. I would imagine those odds would drop quite dramatically if the Packers were to falter on Sunday. The home/road performance splits this season are striking. If you believe that everything the NFC will go “chalk” (it almost certainly will not) then you believe that the Packers will win a home playoff game and be one win away from a Super Bowl appearance. That’s really all you can ask for as far as I’m concerned. Honestly if you get that far there’s a chance Rodgers could just lock in to Atlanta-mode and win you two games by himself. That’s always on the table.
What’s ahead of the team now is a chance to improve their odds. The chance to ease their path. No matter what anyone says this is a new scenario for the team. They’ve snuck in as a wild card in 2009 and 2010. The 2011 team was the best in football that season. It was a prohibitive favorite that was dismissed in it’s first home game against a 9-7 Giants team that would go on to win the Super Bowl. In 2012 and 2013 the team was still a division winner, but had to gut it out on Wild Card Weekend. The chance to still have to play competitive football in week 17 but have the opportunity for the fist round bye is a new one. It might be just what the doctor ordered.
Why the Packers Will Win: First and foremost, they’re the best team in the division so it would be odd and unfortunate if they didn’t win the division championship. Secondly, this is a goal set out by the team every season, specifically the quarterback group. The goal is to split the road games and go undefeated at home. That goal is attainable this weekend. I can’t just go on and on about how the Packers are the better team and this won’t be close, because the Lions beat Green Bay already this season. They are one of the 4 teams that was able to figure it out.
Offensively the Packers will have the same issue against the Lions that they always do. The Lions spend a lot of time daring them to run the ball with 6 and 7 man boxes, keeping 2 safeties high. Most of the time this season when teams have done that the Packers have used Eddie Lacy to ram the ball down their throats. The problem with the Lions is that even without Stephen Tulloch their defense is good enough to shut down the run and still play a 2-shell. I’m going to be surprised if the Packers eclipse the 30 point mark this week. Thankfully I don’t really see a way they’re going to have to.
Defensively is where the Packers really match up well with Detroit. Calvin Johnson has had a fair amount of success against the team since entering the league, but certainly hasn’t won very many games. As you saw with Julio Jones, one receiver isn’t usually going to win an NFL game. Even if Johnson goes bonkers and gets 175 yards and 2 TDs, the Lions are still going to need to find about 200 more offensive yards and 2 more touchdowns from other sources. The Packers defense allowed 10 points to the Lions in the week 3 loss, that’s it. The other 9 Lion points were actually surrendered by Eddie Lacy, 7 on a fumble return TD and 2 on a safety. This Lions offense doesn’t match up well with Green Bay and they aren’t as good as they were in week 3. Stafford outdoors is never good and the Lions offensive line without Waddle and Raiola is problematic as well. Detroit doesn’t run the ball well enough and doesn’t stick to the run long enough to really give Green Bay problems. As much as it’s going to annoy Packers fans and make them doubt the team, the defense is going to carry the day in this one again.
Why the Lions Will Win: They’re not going to, but they could. They have won 2 straight against the Packers, which is extremely rare in and of itself. The Packers are almost never on the losing end of “streaks”. The problem is that the types of teams that have been able to figure out Green Bay have always been those with dominant defensive lines that don’t need to blitz to create a rush or control the run game. San Francisco, the Giants (not these Giants, previous versions of the Giants) and Detroit are the teams that have been able to win consecutive games against the Aaron Rodgers Packers (Fail Mary doesn’t count, never has never will).
If Detroit could completely control the running game, and score on defense, they could possibly win a 17-14 type of game. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility. Unfortunately for them the Packers are averaging over 41 points a game at home. I’ve already stated that I can’t really see the Packers offense scoring 30 points but thankfully the Detroit offense is bad and their special teams isn’t much better. The Packers usually lose the special teams matchup week in and week out, I don’t see that happening this time.
Bottom Line: I’m not going to pick the streak to end this season. Not only because of how devastating it would be to the Super Bowl plans of the 2014 Green Bay Packers, but because it just doesn’t make sense. The Packers played about as bad as they possibly could in week 3 to lose that game. About as many bad things happened in that game as possibly could. This Packers team is actually better than the one that played in Detroit during week 3. They’ve managed to stay healthy, and have made adjustments that have legitimately improved the on-field product. Detroit has gotten appreciably worse. They’ve lost key guys to injury and are without their dirtbag starting center. The offense is not very good. The defense is fine, but if the Lions front 6 or 7 can’t hold up against Eddie Lacy without help from their safeties they’re going to get run on. If they start to creep the safeties up, as good as Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo have been, they aren’t the type of players that can beat Aaron Rodgers. The Packers are going to win and give everyone a stress free Wild Card Weekend. Packers 27 Lions 17 (13-2 picking this season)