The Detroit Lions losing on Thanksgiving has become about as much as an American tradition as turkey, pumpkin pie and parades. The team finally believes it has the talent to reverse that trend this season.
The task won’t be easy, however, as entering the Motor City for Thursday’s annual Turkey Day contest at Ford Field will be a powerful Green Bay Packers squad that hasn’t tasted defeat in nearly a full calendar year.
The Packers come into this critical NFC North clash riding a franchise-record 16-game winning streak when counting last year’s postseason and will be shooting for their first 11-0 start in club history. Green Bay, which also strung together 10 consecutive victories to begin the 1929 and 1962 seasons, kept its unblemished mark intact by posting a hard-fought 35-26 decision over a determined Tampa Bay team this past Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Below are the keys to the game Thursday, as well as the prediction for the Turkey Day affair:
1. How do you stop Arron Rodgers? – The Packers clearly wouldn’t be in their enviable position if not for the week-to-week brilliance of their standout triggerman, who’s near-flawless play has help mask some other deficiencies. This could be Rodgers’ greatest challenge yet, however, as the Lions have not allowed an opposing quarterback to record a passer rating over 100 this season and own a pass rush that can certainly create problems, especially with Green Bay left tackle Chad Clifton still out with a hamstring injury.
2. Execute in the red zone – This game has all the makings of being both high-scoring and competitive, and the outcome may ultimately be decided by which offense executes better deep in enemy territory. Not surprisingly, the Packers are the best in the NFC at scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, but the Detroit defense has been one of the league’s stingier groups when pinned down near its goal line. The Lions are a lackluster 48.4 percent in red-zone conversions on offense, and will likely need to fare better on Thursday to match Green Bay’s firepower.
3. Don’t get in a Shootout – The Lions do have the personnel of competing with Green Bay in a potential shootout, but winning one depends on how successful they are in limiting mistakes. Stafford has thrown six interceptions over the last two weeks — two more than Rodgers has had all season — and another careless afternoon would surely spell doom for Detroit. The Lions also need to shore up their coverage on special teams after giving up both a punt and kickoff return touchdown in their past two games. The Packers do have a difference-making return man in rookie receiver Randall Cobb, who’s taken back both a kickoff and punt for scores this year.
Prediction – Since only one team in NFL history has made through a full 16-game schedule undefeated, odds are the Packers are going to slip up sometime in the coming weeks. And with a Detroit defense capable of taking Rodgers out of his comfort zone and spoiling his unbelievable run of excellence, not to mention an immense amount of motivation with the arrival of the reigning world champions into the Lions’ den on a national stage, this could be that day. Green Bay has still been able to answer every challenge that’s come it’s way, however, and a team that reached the Super Bowl by winning three straight weeks on the road last season isn’t going to be intimidated by either the hostile environment or the magnitude of the moment. Expect plenty of points from two offenses that can light up the scoreboard, and for the more reliable Packers to make one or two fewer mistakes than their hungry opponent that provides the difference. Green Bay 28 Detroit 24