In the Jungle - Week 11 Preview
At any rate, games in Detroit are always a bit scary, and not just because the Lions are consistently ranked among the dirtiest teams in the league. Despite their many issues, they are a very talented squad. On offense, quarterback Matthew Stafford has all the skills you could ask for, Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson, and Mikel LeShoure is a capable running back. Throw in a productive tight end in Brandon Pettigrew and the Lions can run with just about anyone.
On defense, Ndamukong Suh is a monster, despite some declining production. Combined with Cliff Avril, Nick Fairley, and Kevin VandenBosch, the Lions have a formidable front line. There are holes in the rest of the defense, sure, but a solid pass rush can cover a wide range of issues.
Perhaps fortunately for Detroit, their greatest defensive strength will be going literally head to head with the Packers' greatest weakness: their offensive line. An injury to Bryan Bulaga has shifted T.J. Lang to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith to left guard, and even though they've had two weeks to prepare, the Packers have to be at least a little bit concerned about that area. If Green Bay is forced to keep extra backs and tight ends in to protect Aaron Rodgers, that could have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the offense.
But maybe it's good that Evan Dietrich-Smith is on the field this week. After all, we all know how well he gets along with Mr. Suh.
5 - Wins by the Packers in the week following a bye in their last six attempts. With a week to prepare for an opponent, Mike McCarthy's teams have generally been quite good, and his record seems to prove that. A week to get healthy may have been just as important as any preparation by the coaching staff. The Packers have also won five of their six games at Ford Field under Mike McCarthy.
4 - Consecutive wins for the Packers. It's now been over a month since Green Bay has dropped a game, dating back to their disappointing second half against the Colts. 6-3 certainly looks a lot better than 2-3, but it's frustrating to think about how much better this season could be going. Were it not for a second half collapse in Indianapolis (fueled by two big injuries, but still) and a simultaneous possession fiasco in Seattle, the Packers would be 8-1 and on top of the NFC North right now.
3 - Rushing touchdowns this season by Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford. This is easily the most surprising stat I found in my prep for this preview. Stafford, who's passing stats have been far from overwhelming this year, has still managed to find the end zone three times on the ground. For sake of comparison, Cam Newton has only four rushing touchdowns this year and Michael Vick has yet to score on the ground.
2 - Receiving touchdowns for Calvin Johnson so far this season. Johnson has been statistically incredible in just about every category but touchdowns. He leads the league in receiving yards despite being tied for just seventh place league-wide in receptions. In addition, Johnson has caught 20 passes of more than 20 yards this season, or, more precisely, exactly a third of his receptions this year have gone for at least 20 yards. What's more, according to NFL.com, a whopping 78% of Johnson's receptions have resulted in first downs for the Lions. Basically, he's very productive.
1 - Receiving touchdowns for Jermichael Finley so far this season. The big tight end would be one of the contenders for most disappointing offensive player of the year if that were actually a real award. I'm not sure where I come down on Finley. On the one hand, he's a tremendous athlete who demands a lot of special attention from the defense. On the other, his declining production demands less and less attention every week. Who is the real Finley? Is it the one who tore up the Cardinals in the playoffs in the 2009 season? Is it the one from this year who averages less than 10 yards per reception? I wish we knew.
Last Time - Packers: 45 Lions: 41 (January 1, 2012)
In a shootout for the ages, Matt Flynn outdueled Matthew Stafford at Lambeau Field, posting this ridiculous stat line: 31/44, 480 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT. Stafford was no slouch either, piling up 520 yards on 36 of 59 passing for 5 TD's and 2 INT. It's a cliche to be sure, but the two teams truly did put up video game numbers. 1000 yards passing between Stafford and Flynn? No big deal, in today's NFL it would seem.
Meet a Lion - Calvin Johnson - 6'5", 236 lbs - WR - 6th NFL season
If you were trying to design the perfect wide receiver, you'd just make a mold of Calvin Johnson's body and call it a day. This gentleman is an absolute freak of nature, and he has the production to back up his prodigious physical gifts. Sure, he hasn't reached the end zone much this year, but that doesn't make him any less of a threat. The Packer defense must absolutely know where Johnson is at every moment, otherwise they'll end up on next year's highlight video.
Plus, Johnson's nickname is "Megatron," so that's just cool. It would have been even cooler if Tramon Williams hadn't decided to dub himself "Optimus Prime" and start a geeky feud with Johnson this week. The last thing the Packers need to face is an angry Calvin Johnson.
The Packers will win if...
...they keep their drives long and the Lions' drives short. As good as the Packers' offense is, turning this game into a shootout probably plays into Detroit's hands. The Packer defense was banged up to an alarming degree before they lost Clay Matthews for this week, so keeping Detroit's possessions to a minimum is of significant importance.
The Lions will win if...
...they take away Jordy Nelson. Nelson is supposedly healthy enough to make a return this week, and he's without a doubt Aaron Rodgers' favorite target so far this year. As good as Randall Cobb and James Jones have been, it's far from a sure thing that they'd be able to pick up the slack with Nelson not carrying at least some of the load. If Detroit can keep Nelson's impact to a minimum, that might give them enough of an edge to make this one close.
The Pick: Packers - 27 Lions - 21
Green Bay takes this one based on the depth of their talent. Despite a bruised lineup on both sides of the ball, the Packers are a better, more disciplined team than Detroit right now. Plus, given a week to prepare, Mike McCarthy should be able to cook up a scheme that covers over any holes left by injuries. Or one would hope, at least.
The Rest (home team in ALL CAPS)
Dolphins over BILLS FALCONS over Cardinals Buccaneers over PANTHERS COWBOYS over Browns REDSKINS over Eagles RAMS over Jets CHIEFS over Bengals TEXANS over Jaguars Saints over RAIDERS BRONCOS over Chargers PATRIOTS over Colts Ravens over Steelers 49ers over BEARS
Last week: 8-4-1
Season total: 97-46-1 (.674)
Tweet for the Road
Here's a new feature for you: each week I'll post a fun tweet from a Packer player that happened some time in the last seven days. This week we get a fun reminder that Josh Sitton believes he can do anything. I mean literally anything.