Five things to watch: Lions at Packers

Detroit News

America, welcome to our curse.

A national audience will be subjected to the Detroit Lions on Monday night as they play at Lambeau Field under the bright lights.

This game is the first of three NFC North games in four weeks — all on the road.

Technically the Lions are a member of the National Football League and, one presumes, eligible to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. So if there’s any hope for a surprise season, the Lions need to win at least one of these games, better yet more.

All that said, the Lions have a history of being entertaining on national television, even on down years.

And if this is a laugher at halftime, maybe catch Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN2 or maybe just get some decent sleep instead.

Here are five things to watch as the Lions visit the Green Bay Packers on Monday night (8:15 p.m., ESPN, 97.1 FM):

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1. Second Sewell start: Since the Lions are going to struggle for wins, it’s important to keep a long view on things that will actually matter next year and beyond. Rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell’s development is obviously among them. Sewell earned glowing praise for his play in the opener against Nick Bosa and will need another strong performance to contain Preston Smith, another tough matchup.

2. The full Nelson? With all the Lions injuries, it evened things up some to see Green Bay with their own injury issues. Za’Darius Smith is out, so Detroit’s Matt Nelson gets a break there. Nelson will instead be opposite Rashan Gary, the former Michigan standout. Nelson had a tough time against San Francisco in his second career start at right tackle. With Taylor Decker’s injury creating an opportunity, Nelson has a chance to prove he could be a long-term piece in the Lions’ plans.

3. Jilted Jamaal: Jamaal Williams says there are no hard feelings about Green Bay moving on from him, but that he does feel like an unwanted ex. First off, I’d love to leave relationships with that kind of positive attitude. I’ll work on that. But just like getting to the gym in case you run into your ex again, Williams has a chance to put his best foot forward on Monday. The fans at Lambeau, where he was adored, surely will cheer him in his return. But you know Williams will be running a little harder Monday to continue a positive start for his new relationship after averaging 6 yards a carry in the opener.

4. Next man up? The Lions’ secondary was thin to begin with, but after the Jeff Okudah injury, it’s even tougher back there for defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant. Rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu appears to be the next man up opposite Amani Oruwariye (good luck, Manning brothers, on those pronunciations). Pleasant, regarded as a possible up-and-comer in the coaching ranks, also will be under close scrutiny after his sideline blow-up last week with Okudah. The Flint native will have limited talent and experience to work with while under the national spotlight against a motivated Aaron Rodgers and perhaps the NFL’s best receiver in Davante Adams. Buckle up.

5. Bettors better than Lions: Breaking news: Rodgers has dominated the Lions in his career. Not surprisingly, the numbers are convincing. Since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008, Rodgers is 17-5 against the Lions as a starter. Perhaps surprisingly though, Rodgers is less-than-dominant against the spread in games vs. Detroit, according to research I did this week at PlayMichigan. There, he’s only 12-10. The perception of the Lions and the perception of Rodgers (and Green Bay being a public team) perhaps has inflated the lines over the years. Keep that in mind as you consider Monday’s double-digit line.

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Matt Schoch covers Michigan sports betting for PlayMichigan.com.

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