Thursday, November 24, 2011

Packers vs. Lions: A future Thanksgiving classic

Happy Thanksgiving, Packer fans! It's that time of year again when we give thanks for all our blessings. Much to be grateful for, indeed. Not least of which is our beloved Green Bay Packers, of course. The Super Bowl Champion, 10-0 (16-0 going back to last season) Packers.

Today's game between the Packers and the up-and-coming Lions is the main course in today's triumvirate of NFL games. The Packers are playing to keep their win streak alive and get one step closer to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Lions are playing to prove to themselves and the rest of the world that they are indeed the new kid on the block in the NFC North. The game shapes up to be one of those epic Turkey Day classics that have come down to us through the football ages. Heck, the players on both teams from the 1962 game (in which the Lions beat the then-undefeated Pack) are still talking trash to one another.

The Packers are averaging more than 35 points per game, the Lions more than 30. It goes without saying that points will be scored. The Lions' defense is often spoken of in glowing terms, and rightly so at least in terms of their front four. They caused problems for the Pack in last year's game in Detroit, knocking out QB Aaron Rodgers with a concussion and securing a 7-3 win. Oy. The Packers' offensive line must play at a higher level than it has over the last few weeks in particular in order to keep Rodgers not only upright but in the game. The Lions are quickly getting a reputation for being on the dirty side of things. Rodgers and all the players, especially on offense, are going to need to have their heads on a swivel all day long. Cheap shots will be coming. You just hope and pray they don't result in a player being lost for the game or longer.

This is one game where you'd really like a consistent running game to take the pressure off Rodgers and the passing game. It's unclear whether RB James Starks will see playing time today or not after spraining his knee in Sunday's game against the Buccaneers. Late word was that he'd be a gametime decision. If Starks can't go, Ryan Grant is prepared to get most of the carries, although we may see our first glimpse of recently-elevated practice squad player Brandon Saine. If the Packers can't run and can't protect Rodgers it will be a long day, kids.

The Packers' passing attack may take a bit of a hit if Greg Jennings can't go today because of his bruised knee. But as we all know, there are still plenty of receiving weapons for Rodgers to choose from. On a fast track inside, the passing game should be top-notch and Rodgers should be able to exploit a suspect secondary...if he gets time, of course.

On the other side of things, the Packers' defense must tighten things up against a very good QB in Matthew Stafford. He'll be looking for his main receiving threat, Calvin Johnson, all day long. WR Titus Young and TE Tony Scheffler are his other key receiving targets. That means the secondary must communicate better to avoid the blown coverages we have seen far too often in some games this season. The linebacking corps also must do a better job covering the tight ends. And somehow, someway, defensive coordinator Dom Capers must get consistent pressure on Stafford. If that happens, the Packers will have multiple chances to generate turnovers. The Lions' running game took a hit with Jahvid Best reportedly being out for the game today. Kevin Smith can do damage, however, if the Packers don't tackle better than they did against the Buccaneers. The embarrassment which the defense should have felt at having Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount run through the entire lineup just might serve as a wakeup call on that issue.

Let's not forget special teams, especially since the Packers now have a legitimate return threat in Randall Cobb. He is a game changer. Whether he gets a return for a touchdown today or merely sets up a short field for the Packers' offense a few times, his impact could be the difference in today's game.

The Packers are favored by 6-1/2 points, with the over-under being set at 55-1/2 points, the latter being the largest total of Week 12's games. Holy shootout, Batman!

I'd have to go with the over, and I'd probably take the Lions against the spread if push came to shove on both. This is a game which the Pack could lose if they don't play the way they are capable of on both sides of the ball. This Detroit team is capable of putting up points. It might be a game where whoever has the ball last wins. As we've seen on more than one occasion this season -- far too many times, in fact -- the Packers "D" has a way of letting teams back in the game, particularly late. If they do that today they just might not be able to pull things out.

I have to drink the Green 'n' Gold elixir yet again, though, today. I think the Pack will prevail in a hard-fought, high-scoring game. I'm calling it Packers 38 - Lions 34.

Go Pack Go!!!

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