Not long ago did it seem improbable for the Pack to earn a first round bye. But now only half a game behind the 49ers for second place in the NFC, the Green Packers are hungry for a week off and a guaranteed January matchup at Lambeau Field. A postseason atmosphere and a little snow will cover the stands on Sunday when their division rival Detroit Lions come into town.
NFLWeather.com forecasts a 30% of snow with a low temperature around 24*. Unfortunately for the visiting Lions who play inside the Ford Field dome, few wins come from games when the temperature dips below freezing. According to NFLWeather.com historical analytics, the Lions have not seen snow in the past three year and are only 1-6 in their last six outings against a surging Packer club.
With temperatures dropping, the race for the division is heating up. After a 2-3 start, Green Bay has won six of seven and sit with Chicago atop the black and blue NFC’s legendary “Norris Division.” With injuries across the field to stars like Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews and Cedric Benson; the Pack still manages to find ways to win. James Starks and Alex Green have stepped in at running back. Now that Starks could be sidelined for multiple weeks, the team brought back veteran Ryan Grant to backup Green as the lone starter. Green took 12 carries for 58 yards in last week’s 23-14 win at home against the Minnesota Vikings and will be called upon heavily when the snow falls.
But the backfield isn’t the only area suffering from setbacks. The wide-outs have been without Jennings for most of the year but he’s returned just in time to fill in for Jordy Nelson who’s missed all week with a hamstring injury. Veteran Donald Driver was limited so this should be another huge week for Randall Cobb and James Jones as Aaron Rodgers’ top two targets, in addition to Jennings. But if visibility becomes an issue, the Packers’ Paul Bunyan in the form of tight end Jermichael Finley is a tough guy to miss.
Defensively, injuries have been an issue but the team has adapted relatively well. Even though Adrian Peterson ran for over 200 yards, his side only put up two first half touchdowns then didn’t find the end zone again. Without Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson, the Packer D has surrendered 21 points or more only once since week seven. Between the weather and an improving defensive unit and the no dome to provide shelter, the Lions will struggle earning and maintaining any offensive momentum.
Then again, Detroit hasn’t had much positive momentum. In a game that could have turned their season around, a division rival stormed in and won the game in the closing minutes. That happened to be against this very Packer side no more than three weeks ago. And inside a frozen stadium where Detroit hasn’t won since Brett Favre’s rookie season, Green Bay should be fell safe at home under a white Wisconsin blanket.
The only hope for the Lions lies solely in the arm of Matthew Stafford and the hands of Megatron. The NFL’s top passing team (312.5 yards per game) will need to gun it out to have any chance of an upset. With Titus Young out for the year as he preps for surgery “unless he doesn’t show up for it,” according to coach Jim Schwartz; Stafford will need a pro bowl performance from Calvin Johnson as well as tight end Brandon Pettigrew who has underperformed tremendously all season. If there’s a time to step up and deliver big numbers, Sunday is it. The game at Lambeau is likely to define the entire Detroit Lions’ season.
Having dropped seven of their eight losses by eight points or less, the Lions have come so close so many times. It is precisely for this reason that the Lions should not be taken lightly. Numbers certainly don’t favor them, but healthy raw talent at the skill positions sure gives them a chance. Meanwhile the Packers are riding a high and hopefully aren’t already looking at next week’s marquee matchup against the Bears. With visibility limited by the weather, the Packers must focus on the job in front of them.