Thursday, November 15, 2012

Preview: Packers at Lions

The Green Bay Packers have only played one divisional game, a win over the Bears, and the Lions have played three and lost three in the NFC North. For the Lions, the final score looked close in each of those three losses, but it really wasn't, as they scored a late touchdown in each one to make it appear close.

The biggest story in this game might be injuries. The Lions have problems on offense with WR Calvin Johnson still unable to practice (everyone seems to expect he'll play on Sunday) and WR Nate Burleson lost for the season, but without LB Clay Matthews and CB Charles Woodson, the Packers defense is looking rather toothless. The question is whether the Packers will find a pass rush without Matthews and I'm not overly optimistic that they will. At least the return of CB Tramon Williams to health in 2012 gives the Packers a legitimate top corner to harass Johnson. QB Matthew Stafford may not match 5000 yards or 41 touchdowns again this season, but the NFL's No. 1 pass offense (ranked No. 4 overall by Football Outsiders) should had success against a wounded Packer defense. I would be surprised if the Packers can hold them under 28 points.

However, the injury situation might be even worse for the Lions defense. It's been a rough season for the Lions' defense from the start and their 2011 sack leader DE Cliff Avril has already missed practice time this week, along with nearly every member of the Lions' secondary. They've been forced to claim former Packer CB Pat Lee off waivers after he was abruptly released by the Raiders (never a good sign). Still, he might be one of their top two cornerbacks at the moment.

While Rodgers hasn't been a force over the past two weeks (218 yards against the Cardinals, 186 yards against the Jaguars) the absence of WR Jordy Nelson has seemed to have been the problem. With his expected return from a hamstring injury, the offense, which has vanished over the past two games during the third quarter, should get a much needed boost from the return of their top wide receiver.

The only concern might be the switch of T.J. Lang to right tackle, to replace injured RT Bryan Bulaga. Lions' DE Kyle Vanden Bosch still remains effective with 5 sacks and 10 QB hits so far this season. This will be a match-up to watch.

Another area that could help the Packers is special teams, where the Packers rank No. 12 overall by Football Outsiders (held down only by K Mason Crosby's poor season) while the Lions rank near the bottom at No. 29. The Lions could end up with more total yards of offense, but if they keep losing the field position battle, it might not be enough to win the game.

This match-up, between two high powered offenses and two injured defenses, looks like it will be a shoot out. Maybe something like Packers 31, Lions 28.

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