Lions’ Surge Sets Up Season-Ending Showdown With Packers

The Lions should know by the kickoff of their Sunday Night Football game in Green Bay whether they are playing to reach the playoffs for the first time in six years or whether their primary motivation is spoiling the Packers’ plans.

They probably deserved better after annihilating the Bears 41-10 last week, but they need the Rams to upset the Seahawks in the afternoon for Sunday’s game to represent a rare win-and-in opportunity for Detroit. The Packers, by contrast, are in if they win regardless of the Seahawks result, despite having an identical 8-8 record and having lost to the Lions back in November. The Seahawks own the tiebreaker over the Lions thanks to their 48-45 win over them back in Week 4.

Oddly, the Lions are eliminated if Seattle wins, but aren’t necessarily eliminated without a win of their own Sunday night. If the Seahawks lose to the Rams, the Lions only need a tie in Green Bay — since they would be 1-0-1 against Green Bay and Seattle would drop to 8-9.

The lines

Most Michigan sportsbooks opened this one at Packers -4 and it has moved ever so slightly, with all of the books in lock step with Green Bay at -4.5 as of Friday midday. The over/under opened at 48.5 and it has ticked up to as high as 49.5 (at WynnBET) thanks to reasonably good weather this time of year in Northern Wisconsin (clear skies and mid-20s temperatures are expected).

The moneyline has seen the most movement, opening at Packers -198 and moving as far as Packers -220 at multiple books by Friday, with the best moneyline price on the Lions (+198) offered at FanDuel.

The matchup

These teams are nothing like they were when Detroit won 15-9 at home back on Nov. 6. The Lions have gone 6-2 since then thanks to a revved-up offense playing behind one of the hottest quarterbacks in the game, Jared Goff. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers have won their last four games to give themselves a chance to qualify for the postseason for the fourth straight year.

Not long ago, this game didn’t loom as meaningful. After they fell to 4-8 in Week 12, the Packers’ playoff chances were calculated at just 3%. This late-season surge is nothing new in Green Bay; the Packers are 18-1 in December and January under head coach Matt LaFleur.

The Packers offense has finally hit its stride, averaging 29.8 points per game during this win streak, up from 19.6 in the first 12 games. That is in part due to a more productive running game, with the Packers piling up at least 135 yards on the ground in three of their last four games behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon.

They’ve been tremendously opportunistic on defense, with 12 takeaways in their last four games (vs. just three turnovers). Green Bay scored 28 points off takeaways in its 41-17 win over the Vikings last week.

Taking care of the ball will be critical for Detroit, which has been productive offensively all season thanks to a solid year from Goff, who has more or less returned to his 2018 Pro Bowl form. With four touchdown passes against Green Bay, Goff would establish a new career high of 33 (albeit in a longer season than when he tossed 32 in ’18).

Detroit’s defense isn’t great, but two rookies have helped fuel a bit of a late-season turnaround. The No. 2 overall pick, Aidan Hutchinson, has been as good as advertised, becoming the first rookie in NFL history to produce seven sacks, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries in a season. Less-heralded rookie James Houston was elevated from the practice squad in Week 12 and now leads all NFL rookies with eight sacks.

Prop to watch

Amon-Ra St. Brown under 70.5 receiving yards (-114 at FanDuel)

Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander was rather outspoken about his ability to shut down Minnesota receiver Justin Jefferson and he delivered, holding him to one catch for 15 yards last week.

He’ll have a slightly different challenge this week as Detroit’s top receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown, tends to line up as the slot receiver in most passing situations. St. Brown comes into the game with 100 catches for 1,112 receiving yards. Though St. Brown has gone over his receiving yardage total in four of the last six games, this is a tough spot against one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

Photo: Lon Horwedel/USA TODAY

Author: Justin King