Week 17 Preview: Packers Finish Lackluster Season Against Lions

Stepping back to look at the 2017 season as a whole, it's deceptively easy to identify when everything went wrong for the Packers.

Sure, there's that play when an extra step and some additional enthusiasm on a tackle by Anthony Barr deprived the Packers of their best player for essentially the balance of the season, but problems in Green Bay run deeper than one play.

Football seasons should not be undone by the loss of one player, so even when Aaron Rodgers may have made the difference against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, or even the Detroit Lions, but so too would a competent defense or a backup quarterback capable of producing even an average amount of offense.

Green Bay's issues, then, reach back much further. Decisions concerning backup quarterbacks and defensive playmakers have roots dating back months and even years, only bearing fruit for the Packers when the spotlight shifted away from Rodgers.

And now, with one meaningless game left, the Packers have little left to do other than wonder what decisions could have spared them from this situation. A draft pick here, a slightly different approach to a free agent there, and perhaps we'd be watching another de facto NFC North title game this Sunday.

Five Things to Think about During Sunday’s Game

1 - Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has a track record of winning the Packers’ final game of the regular season. Since his first season in 2006, Green Bay is 9-2 in Week 17. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have a better record (10-1).  

2 - Green Bay has lost two straight in December for the first time since the 2010 regular season, when the Packers lost on the road to Detroit and New England in consecutive weeks. Before the loss against the Panthers earlier this month, the Packers had won six consecutive games in the month of December.

3 - If you’re rooting for the Packers to have a more favorable draft pick, root for the 7-8 Redskins to knock off the 2-13 Giants and the 7-8 Cardinals to defeat the 9-6 Seahawks. The Packers enter Sunday with the 14th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

4 - The Packers entered the 2017 season with the NFL’s fourth-best road record since McCarthy’s first season in 2006. With a loss to the Lions, the Packers will fall to fifth behind New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia Eagles.

5 - Second-year defensive tackle Kenny Clark has had a tremendous year, with 4.5 sacks over the last four games. It’s the most sacks by a Packers defensive tackle in the month of December since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

Who Could Be an X-Factor?

Jon says Reggie Gilbert

Like Gary below, I think a young player is going to be key for the Packers. I've grown tired this season of repeating my plea for more pass rushers on the Packers' defense, but I'll bring it up once more in honor of the end of the regular season. The Packers desperately need help pressuring the passer. A reliable pass rush could have solved a lot of issues this season, and finding more players capable of winning one-on-one match ups is imperative. Maybe Gilbert will be one of those players next year. After a promising showing against the Vikings, he'll get another long look this week in Detroit. Hopefully he can make the most of it.

Gary says Michael Clark.

The rookie wide receiver from Marshall is the tallest Packers player to ever catch a pass, and will likely get another long look against the Lions. If Clark figures to be a part of the team’s plans going forward, a strong performance could be a good trend setter heading into the offseason.

The last three years, one receiver has had a big game in Week 17. Last year, Geronimo Allison had 91 receiving yards and a touchdown. In 2015, Richard Rodgers nabbed seven passes and a touchdown. In 2014, Randall Cobb found the endzone twice. Could Clark be the next receiver?

What Happened Last Time the Packers and Lions Played?

The last Packers/Lions tilt represented something of a turning point for the Packers' season. Three weeks removed from Aaron Rodgers' collarbone injury, the Packers entered Week 9 fresh off a bye week.

If ever there was a time for Brett Hundley to show why Mike McCarthy's confidence was well placed, this was it. With extra preparation time, the Packers figured to give the Lions everything they could handle.

Instead, it was the Lions who dictated the tempo. Matthew Stafford was almost completely unaffected by the Packers' pass rush while Golden Tate and Marvin Jones sliced and diced the Packers' secondary.

Meanwhile, Brett Hundley and the Packers' offense were ineffective in just about every capacity. Most notably, Hundley managed just 245 yards on 38 attempts through the air, though he was doubtless affected by the absence of tight end Martellus Bennett, who was a surprise scratch with an injury that appeared out of nowhere over the bye week. It would be his last game with the Packers as he was cut two days later.

The Packers didn't fare much better, falling 30-17 in a game that was far less close than even the double digit margin would imply.

Who’s Going to Win on Sunday?

Jon says the Lions will win with no trouble.

The pieces are in place for a narrative not uncommon in sports. Sure, the story goes, the scrappy team of underdogs may have been eliminated from meaningful competition, but by golly they're going to give it their all, even in this meaningless season game.

It's easy to buy into that line of thinking. After all, the Packers managed similar feats in 2005, 2006, and 2008, the last three times they ended their season with games of questionable import.

Easy though it may be, you shouldn't believe it. We've seen no reason to think this Packers team can rally, even for a meaningful game. They've shown few signs of life since Aaron Rodgers went down for the first time. Why should it start now? Detroit won't work hard to win this one.

Gary says the Lions by a bunch.

After the Packers’ first shutout loss at home in Week 11 to the Ravens, Green Bay bounced back and played their best game of the season since Rodgers’ injury. While the Steelers escaped with a win on a last-second field goal, the Packers sufficiently overcame the humbling zero point performance in front of their home fans.

It’s hard to see Green Bay turning in a second such performance after last week’s backbreaking 16-0 loss at home to the Vikings. This Packers team looks like they’re just as ready for the season to be over as the fans.

For Further Listening

This week on Blue 58, Gary filled in for Jon and discussed the dismal Vikings game and why the Packers haven’t ran the ball more this season. Finally, Jon interviews a very special guest about the start of the Lombardi days.