Most people looking at the Week 18 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions will see a glorified preseason game. The Packers have the first seed in the NFC wrapped up, and the Lions basically have the No. 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft locked in.
But if you were to ask either team if this game is important, they’d both answer with a resounding “yes.” For the Packers, it’s an opportunity to stay fresh on a track instead of taking three week break in between games. For the Lions, it’s just another chance to compete and play this game they love. Jared Goff has no reason to play this game, but it sure sounds like he will, because he’s a competitor.
With one last game before the Lions go into Year 2 of the Dan Campbell era, there is still a lot to watch for in Detroit’s season finale. Let me convince you on why you should be watching Lions vs. Packers.
Ifeatu Melifonwu vs. Davante Adams, Round 2
The Lions are down bad at cornerback due to several injuries, but the positive spin is that it’s an opportunity to give valuable experience to third-round rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu. After missing 10 games due to an injury, Melifonwu is back in the lineup, and he’s been facing some of the league’s best since becoming a starter again. He went against Kyle Pitts in his first full week back, and he had to deal with DK Metcalf last week. While he didn’t play particularly well against good receivers, it’s undoubtedly an important part of his learning process.
Melifonwu’s job doesn’t get any easier this week against Packers top receiver Davante Adams. It’s hard to know how much Adams will play, but it won’t be the first time the two have faced off against each other. Back in Week 2, Melifonwu was on Adams for most of the game, and held his own until he gave up a 50-yard pass on the play that he suffered an injury on.
If he can show some of the same promise he showed that Monday night, it will be a nice confidence booster heading into the offseason.
Can Jared Goff finish on a high note?
When we last saw Jared Goff, he was coming off his best stretch as a Detroit Lion. In his past four starts, he’s completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 6.9 yards per attempt nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 105.1 passer rating. While nothing he’s done has completely erased some of the early-season mistakes he made, he is starting to warrant some extra consideration going forward.
Goff was always going to be a part of the 2022 team, but now that he’s more comfortable in this team’s offense—plus having a couple extra receiving weapons at his disposal—it’s clear he’s playing at a higher level.
We’re headed to an offseason where quarterback will be a hot topic here in Detroit. Whether it’s about drafting a quarterback with one of their first-round picks or adding competition in free agency, the chatter is coming. If Goff can finish the 2021 season on a high note, he could give some Lions fans comfort if Detroit opts to kick the can on a quarterback addition. It won’t be easy, though, against a good Packers defense.
How will Derrick Barnes, Levi Onwuzurike respond to criticism?
If nothing else, head coach Dan Campbell has been honest in his public assessments of his players. This week, he did not shy away from poor performances from these two rookie defenders. Of linebacker Derrick Barnes, he said, “He’s got to play better, and I thought he took a step back. We need more from our stack-backers.”
In regards to defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike, he said, “He’s been up and down. He flashed. Man, he shows out, and the next play, it’s a learning experience. Next play, he shows out. Next play, it’s a learning experience. So there’s just some inexperience there that he’s still having to get over—bumps in the road—which he will.”
Both have underwhelmed in their first year, but Campbell’s public push has worked well for other players. Is it possible both show out in their rookie season finales?
Will D’Andre Swift flash again?
Swift’s return last week was underwhelming, to say the least. He touched the ball only six times and while he turned those touches into 39 yards, 30 of them came on a end-of-half throwaway draw play.
Unfortunately, Swift indicated that he doesn’t think the game plan will change when it comes to his limited usage.
“I think it’ll probably be the same,” Swift said on Thursday. “I’m not sure as far as what it look like on the note sheet or a piece of paper. But just talking to the coaches throughout the week, it’ll probably be the same process.”
But perhaps the Lions are playing coy here. Last week, running backs coach Duce Staley indicated they were “full steam ahead” with Swift, and that didn’t turn out to be true. So maybe the star running back re-assumes the lead back position this week and gives us one more big performance against a vulnerable Packers run defense.
Can Detroit go into the offseason with some positive momentum?
Listen, I’m not one to believe in season-to-season momentum. With all of the roster changes that this team will likely undergo this offseason, we may see less than half of the players involved in Sunday’s game on next year’s 53-man roster.
But I realize I’m in the minority here, and a good performance—or even a win—against the Packers on Sunday will accomplish some things. It will display that this team truly has maintained a positive culture throughout the entire year. It will establish that players gave this team their all until the final whistle of the season. And, yeah, maybe it’ll make a believer or two out of the players whose futures with the team are undecided.
Plus, with nothing to lose in draft position from a Week 18 win, who doesn’t love beating the Packers?