Saturday, October 05, 2013

Week 5: Packers vs. Lions Preview

The Green Bay Packers come into Week 5 off their bye week and much-needed time off in order to get some of the injured players back on the field. The Pack's record is 1-2 after an ugly loss at Cincinnati. The Lions come to Lambeau Field sitting atop the NFC North at 3-1 after a fairly solid handling of Da Bearz in Detroit. The Lions defense looked very good, particularly along the front seven.

The Lions have not won in Green Bay since 1991. They are tired of hearing about it. This is a team, truth be told, that has the best chance to break that streak.

So this is what is at stake in Sunday's game:
  • For the Lions, going to 4-1 and holding onto first place in the NFC North with a 3-0 division record.
  • For the Packers, going to 2-2 and staying within a game of the Lions (and perhaps Da Bearz, who play the Saints in Chicago and are 1-point underdogs).
  • For the Lions, dropping to 3-2 and perhaps falling to second place in the division (with a Bearz win).
  • For the Packers, dropping to 1-3 and a tie for last place in the NFC North with the ViQueens, who have their bye week.
The last point above is the one which should make every Packer fan very nervous. The historical odds of a 1-3 team making the playoffs is not great. (Sorry, can't locate my exact stat at present but seem to remember that it is less than 15 percent.) So, that's a place we don't even want to go. Losing this game is not an option for the Packers. They need it more than the Lions, although the Lions certainly have enough incentive, as well.

The good news for the Packers during the bye week is that LB Clay Matthews will play. After going on a tear in the first half of the game against the Bengals, Matthews' hamstring acted up and he and medical staff decided to pull him and not risk injury. The second half of that game was one where his lack of presence was certainly felt. But having him rested and available for the Pack's first divisional game of 2013 may well have been worth it in the long run if he's able to stay on the field. Running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are also expected back, as is FB John Kuhn, and TE Jermichael Finley. After being down to one running back by the end of the Cincinnati game, the Packers should be able to offer a more balanced effort on offense. The key will be how well the Packers' offensive line is able to handle arguably one of the best defensive lines in football. Without a running game or a threat of it, it could be a long day for QB Aaron Rodgers.

A couple other things to keep in mind: the Packers are generally a very good post-bye-week team under head coach Mike McCarthy; Rodgers has a record of playing extremely well following his rare bad games. Rodgers had an off-game by his standards against the Bengals. That won't happen against the Lions. Especially not at Lambeau Field.

The Packers are very much a work in progress. Just one example: a quarter of the way into the season and they still don't have a solid kick and punt return arrangement, with Jeremy Ross having been cut the day after his disastrous performance in the Cincinnati game. It will be return by platoon until someone steps up. Coach McCarthy is understandably reluctant to expose WR Randall Cobb to work as a returner, but he may not have another choice. Sure hands are needed.

The oddsmakers have set the Packers as 7-point favorites at the time of this writing; that's the third-highest margin of the weekend. We'd be very happy to see that margin come true. The over-under is currently set at 54 points, again, the third-highest total of the week. With Lions QB Matthew Stafford having one of his better seasons so far, with WR Calvin Johnson being his usual nearly-unstoppable self, and RB Reggie Bush giving the Lions a look at running back that they haven't seen in Detroit since Barry Sanders, the Packers defense will have its collective hands full.

What's our prediction? If you are one of those working the odds, take the Lions. Straight up, take the Packers in a very close and hard-fought game.

We're calling it 30-28 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!