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The term ‘statement game’ is lobbied around a fair bit in football. It usually means an important contest, against a quality opponent and rival. Detroit at Green Bay this week certainly checks those boxes.
This is a contest of two teams that are playing well at the right time. Detroit has been on a tear since edging the Packers midseason. The Lions offense is very dangerous and Dan Campbell will have his team ready.
After struggling early (like the Lions), Green Bay is surging. The passing game has been reignited and the defense and special teams are playing lights out. It’s just a great matchup with real meaning and a rare treat to end the NFL regular season.
I look forward to a great game, but I think the Packers will end the Lions season on Sunday night after the Seahawks lose to the Rams. Here’s why, with an emphasis on key matchups.
Packers DBs vs. Lions WRs
Detroit’s top receiver is Amon-Ra St. Brown (100 receptions / 1,112 yards / 6 TDs). While a consistent threat, St. Brown is not a field stretcher (11.1 YPC) and has not scored since he had 2 TD catches at home against Jacksonville on December 4th.
Green Bay’s top cornerback is Jaire Alexander (43 tackles / 14 passes defended / 5 interceptions). Named to the Pro Bowl in 2020 and again for 2022, Alexander is coming off perhaps his best game in the NFL, limiting Minnesota phenom Justin Jefferson to just 1 reception and 15 yards receiving on 5 targets last week.
The Lions receiving core has some depth with DJ Chark and the newly healthy Jameson Williams, but those matchups don’t scare me off against the Packers remaining defensive backfield of Rasul Douglas and Keisean Nixon. If anything, the Lions cadre of no-name TEs could present a bigger coverage problem for Packer safeties and OLBs.
Keisean Nixon vs. Lions STs
If you have not yet had the opportunity to watch Keisean Nixon play football, you are in for a treat on Sunday night. Every time he touches the ball you feel like he can go. If you’re old enough, the name Desmond Howard might pop into your mind — a great returner burning up the league as the Packers are heading into the playoffs. I’m telling you: dude is an X factor, and not one I think the Lions are well-positioned to contain.
The Lions give up an average of 26.5 yards on kickoff returns, 3rd worst in the league, and an average of 13.2 yards on punt returns, 2nd worst in the league. Josh Woods leads the way for the Lions with 12 total ST tackles (13th in the NFL). Those aren’t promising numbers against even average competition and Nixon is anything but average. Look for the Lions to play field position ball by kicking away from him all day.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Jared Goff
This one is self-evident. Take away hot streaks and look at the body of work and you see two very different QBs at work in this game. Rodgers is a SB winner, MVP, and easy HOF’er that has proven he can win big games at home when it’s cold.
Goff, until recently, was a placeholder QB for the Lions. He’s never won a playoff game, nor has his HC, nor has his franchise in about 30 years. It’s not a matter of recognizing Goff’s talent or the mighty season he has put together, nor can it be a matter of simply disregarding Aaron Rodgers’ own history of success.
Props to Goff, but Rodgers is still the better option as a big game QB.
Matt Lafleur vs. Dan Campbell
In 4 seasons with the Packers, Matt Lafleur is 47-18 (.723) and 17-2 in December and January. Under his tenure, Green Bay has never missed the playoffs. In 2 seasons with the Lions, Dan Campbell is 16-28-1 (.367) and 6-4 in December and January, with all 4 losses as an Away team.
The statement Matt Lafleur wants to make is: This is still our division and we are still a playoff team. Nice season Detroit, now go back to your warm, comfy dome and try again next year.
The statement Dan Campbell wants to make is: These are not the Same Old Lions. When we leave, it’s with the W, and everyone out there putting respect on our name from now on.
At the end of the day, I’m taking the more experienced HC and veteran QB at home with the season on the line. I’ve liked telling the Lions story this season, but I believe it will end Sunday night at Lambeau Field.