Packers vs. Lions 2014: NFC North title up for grabs at Lambeau Field
The Lions and Packers face off on Sunday afternoon in a winner-take-all showdown for the NFC North title at Lambeau Field.
The NFC North title is on the line when the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions meet on Sunday afternoon in a divisional showdown at Lambeau Field. The Packers and Lions have already clinched postseason spots, but both are still jockeying for seed position with a chance to host a playoff game and secure a first-round bye.
Green Bay can clinch the division title and a first-round bye with a win over the Lions, and can also earn homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win if the Seattle Seahawks lose or tie the St. Louis Rams. Detroit wins the NFC North and gets a first-round bye with a victory over the Packers, but it also needs a Seahawks loss and an Arizona Cardinals loss in order to clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
The Lions are in the playoffs for just the second time since the turn of the century (also in 2011), and are gunning for their first division title since they won the NFC Central in 1993. A victory would also give them 12 wins in a season for just the second time in team history, a record that is now held by the 1991 squad. The Packers are postseason-bound for a franchise-record-tying sixth straight year, and are looking for their fourth straight NFC North crown.
The Lions beat the Packers in their first meeting this season, but that game was at the friendly confines of Ford Field. If the Lions are going to win this game in Green Bay, they’ll have to snap the longest road losing streak by any team against another in NFL history. Detroit has lost its last 23 games in Wisconsin since a 21-17 win on Dec. 15, 1991 — the year before Brett Favre joined the Packers.
Another obstacle that the Lions will have to overcome in this game is the loss of center Dominic Raiola, who was suspended one game for stomping on a Chicago Bears player in last Sunday’s win. However, it might be a case of “addition-by-subtraction” with Raiola on the bench — he is ranked 37th out of 40 qualifying centers according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings.
The Packers — 7-0 at home and averaging 41.1 points per game — are on the verge of wrapping up one of the most dominant home seasons by any team in league history. They are trying to become just the fourth team all-time to average at least 40 points per game at home in a season, joining the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (46.5), 2011 New Orleans Saints (41.1) and 2011 Packers (40.1).
Aaron Rodgers has been nearly perfect at Lambeau Field over the last three seasons, throwing an NFL-record 396 passes and 34 touchdowns since his last interception at home on Dec. 2, 2012. This year he leads the league in passer rating (132.6), passing touchdowns (23) and yards per attempt (9.7) in home games, and has led the Packers to at least 25 points in every game at Lambeau. If there is any team that might be able to break the streak, it could be the Lions. Detroit is tied for second in the league in interceptions (20) and has allowed the third-lowest Total QBR this season.
The Lions defense — ranked second in both points and yards allowed — has been a huge part of their success in 2014, but it’s hard to see them making a deep playoff run with a mediocre offense that has struggled to put points on the scoreboard all season. Detroit is averaging 20.1 points per game (23rd in NFL) and has scored a touchdown on just 18 percent of its drives (19th in NFL). How are they going to be able to keep up with a team like the Packers that is scoring more than 30 points per game and reaching the end zone on 31 percent of its drives?
Another reason to question whether the Lions will be able to make noise in the postseason is that they have struggled against the better teams they’ve faced this season. Detroit has only two wins versus teams with a current winning record (Packers and Miami Dolphins), the fewest among the nine squads that have already clinched playoffs spots. Given their track record against the NFL’s elite, the Lions will be challenged in January to snap their seven-game postseason losing streak and win their first playoff game since the 1991 season.
Who to Watch
Ndamukong Suh – The Lions need Suh to dominate in the trenches and put pressure on Aaron Rodgers if they are going to have a shot at slowing down Green Bay’s prolific offense. Suh is arguably the most disruptive player at his position, leading all defensive tackles in total pressures (54) and tied for second in sacks (8.5) this season. He got to Rodgers three times in their Week 3 meeting, sacking him once and registering two other quarterback hurries.
Set to be a free agent at the end of the season, Suh could earn himself a lot of money in this game with a strong performance, anchoring a Detroit defense that effectively shuts down Rodgers and clinches the NFC North for the Lions.
Eddie Lacy – Although Rodgers grabs most of the headlines and fills up the highlight shows, the key to the Packers offense might be Lacy. When the second-year running back is at his best, Green Bay’s offense becomes nearly unstoppable. Teams are forced to game plan for both a physical ground-and-pound run game, along with an explosive aerial attack.
Lacy endured a bit of a sophomore slump in the first several weeks of the season, but has really come on strong over the past month and a half. He is averaging 93.5 yards per game and 5.6 yards per rush in his last six games, a huge jump from his production in the first nine games of the season (53.1 yards per game and 4.0 yards per rush).
Home to the Packers since 1957, Lambeau Field is one of the most historic stadiums in all of sports. It is the oldest NFL stadium and the third-oldest — behind Fenway Park and Wrigley Field — among all major American professional sports’ venues. Lambeau underwent massive renovations in 2003 to make it more modern and fan-friendly, but it still retained its original seating bowl and “frozen tundra” natural grass playing field.
Packers fans are known as some of the rowdiest in all of pro sports. There might not be a more iconic tradition than the “Lambeau Leap,” and there might not be more recognizable fan attire than the foam “cheeseheads” that so many in Packer Nation adorn while cheering on the home team.
How to watch
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay
When: 4.25 p.m. ET
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews
Online streaming: Verizon NFL Mobile
The Packers are 7.5-point favorites according to OddsShark.
The Packers are a near-unanimous pick by the NFL experts to beat the Lions at Lambeau Field. Only one of SB Nation’s panel members — Ryan Van Bibber — is taking Detroit, and all of the experts at CBS Sports are going with Green Bay.