On Sunday Night Football, the NFC North division title is on the line between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Both teams enter the contest at 9-6. The victor wins the NFC North and the loser could be out of the playoffs if the Washington Redskins win their match-up against the New York Giants. The game was previously scheduled to be at 1pm but with such high stakes, the NFL flexed it to the prime-time slot on NBC. The Lions must contain the Packers deep ball offense, consistently run the ball, and protect Matthew Stafford to be able to head into the playoffs as NFC North division winners.
Detroit Lions Week 17 Keys to Victory
Contain Packers Deep Ball Offense
Aaron Rodgers has rejuvenated the Packers in the latter half of the season once again. He has turned around the Green Bay offense and now has 36 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. While both quarterbacks have an identical completion percentage, Matthew Stafford has thrown 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions. With a playoff spot on the line in Week 17, Lions fans are hard pressed not to have flashbacks to last season’s contest at home against the Packers.
That game had a 61-yard Hail Mary from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers in the end zone to win the game. The Lions need their big time defenders to step up. One such defender is Darius Slay, with the nickname Big Play Slay, he will be crucial to Detroit’s playoff chances. He has returned to practice this week and is listed as questionable. If he does play, he will not be 100% against Jordy Nelson and the talented wide receiving corps of the Packers. The bend-don’t-break defense will have to contain Aaron Rodgers’ deep ball to the wide receivers that have also come alive. After the loss to the Redskins, Rodgers stated “I feel like we can run the table, I really do.” The only thing standing in the way of his prediction coming true is the Detroit Lions.
Run the Ball Consistently
Detroit’s strong first half against the NFC leading Dallas Cowboys in Week 16 was surprising and encouraging. The biggest reason for the 21-21 tie heading to half was the emergence of Zach Zenner in the running attack. He had 64 rushing yards and two touchdowns at the half. Unfortunately, what surprised Lions fans even more was the successful running attack being completely abandoned in the second half. Zenner was only given the ball twice while the load was transferred to Dwayne Washington. The Cowboys made key adjustments at halftime with their adjusted defensive packages. Detroit was held scoreless in the second half and lost 42-21.
The Lions currently rank 31st out of 32 NFL teams in rushing. Detroit has not had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013 against who else but the Green Bay Packers. Theo Riddick has yet to return to practice with a wrist injury and is out against the Packers. His catching ability out of the backfield cannot be understated in the Lions offensive attack. With the inability to run the ball, the quick screens and check downs had provided Detroit a different “running” attack. With Riddick out, the Lions will be forced to use Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington as a running back by committee (also known as RBBC). Running the ball and being able to consistently gain yards will open up Matthew Stafford for the play action pass and will be key to keeping Packer defense off-balanced.
Protect Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford statistically has been a different quarterback the second half of this season. While the past few games could be attributed to the injury to his middle finger on his throwing hand, the inability to run the ball has played a factor in the lack of offense. Facing two tough defenses in New York and Dallas the past couple weeks has only compounded Detroit’s offensive woes. Stafford took some big hits late in the game against the Cowboys. The Lions must keep Stafford upright and on the field in Week 17 to reach the playoffs. In November and December, Stafford threw just six touchdowns and five interceptions compared to the first two months of the season where he amassed 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Another blow to the Lions offense is center Travis Swanson being listed as doubtful for Week 17. This will force Graham Glasgow to continue playing center. The Lions played the Packers in the third week of the season. In that game, Matthew Stafford had a great second half. His final stat line had 385 passing yards, three touchdowns and just one interception. Detroit trailed 31-10 at half but the comeback came up just short as the Lions lost 34-27. If Stafford can play the entire game as he did in the second half of Week 3, Detroit has a very good chance of defeating the surging Green Bay Packers.
The Detroit Lions have seen their playoff hopes slowly slip away with their current losing streak. The good news is that they need to earn just one final victory at home to win the division. The bad news is that it comes against their biggest rivals in Green Bay. With players Darius Slay and Travis Swanson still not at full strength, Detroit will need all hands on deck to come away with the NFC North title. One prime-time Sunday night game at Ford Field will decide who will be heading into the playoffs, and if the Redskins win their match-up, who will be out of the playoffs. Matthew Stafford’s Lions versus Aaron Rodgers’ Packers with everything on the line. One game for the North.