Five things to watch: Lions vs. Packers

Detroit News

Heading into the final week of the 2021 season, the Detroit Lions have plenty to play for.

Sure, the draft order is unlikely to move. The Lions are almost guaranteed the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, unless the Jacksonville Jaguars can pull off a minor miracle to close their season.

Yeah, the Lions have no chance of playing spoiler, as the visiting Green Bay Packers have already clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round playoff bye.

And yes, you’re right: The best-case scenario is that everybody makes it out of this game healthy.

But to close the season on a 3-3 run with a win over Aaron Rodgers and the Pack would be objectively huge for head coach Dan Campbell, who spent the first 12 weeks of the season swearing up and down that his team was ‘right there,’ and can spend the entire offseason saying ‘I told you so,’ if the Lions pick up a win to close the final six weeks with a .500 record.

More: How Saints turned around a historically bad defense and what Lions can learn from it

There’s records to be broken, starting spots to contend for and potential for catharsis in this week’s edition of 5 Things to Watch.

The Last Dance?

One could make an argument that Aaron Rodgers is the biggest villain in Detroit sports since Claude Lemeiux rearranged Kris Draper’s face during the 1996 NHL Western Conference Finals.

In 23 career starts against Detroit, the 38-year-old Packers quarterback is 18-5 (and has won five straight dating back to 2019), averaging 257.3 yards and 2.17 touchdowns. He’s also thrown just eight career interceptions over 737 passing attempts against the Lions.

So naturally, when the 38-year-old Packers quarterback looked poised to present Detroit’s NFC North rival with divorce papers this past offseason, Lions nation was quite happy about it.

Alas, he’ll make at least one more trip to Detroit in the green and gold this Sunday.

But with the way that Rodgers and star Packers wideout Davante Adams have implied this season is “the last dance” — despite, you know, only winning one title compared to the six won by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen — Lions fans should feel pretty good about this potentially being the last time they’ll have to see Rodgers wear that yellow helmet in Ford Field.

There’s just one holdup: Rodgers is about as unpredictable as they come. In fact, if somebody were to hear him say that “it’s a lot of fun coming to work” with Matt LaFleur and call his coach’s mind “profound,” they might actually be a little bit scared that the dream of Rodgers taking his talents elsewhere is dead.

So here’s some advice: Just pretend that the deal is done. Convince yourself that this is his last regular-season game in a Packers uniform. As he stands there on the sideline, laughing with his hands tucked into the collar of his shoulder pads during a 30-point blowout, tell yourself this is the last time.

He can only hurt you if you let him.

Sun God’s world

Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a frequent subject on the ‘5 Things’ log list over the past couple of weeks, and this week’s rendition is no exception.

Not because St. Brown is one of just a few offensive starters left to suit up for Detroit in the season finale — though that is a big part of it — but because he has the chance to set another record. With just 15 receiving yards on Sunday, he can set the new Lions’ rookie receiving record by passing Roy Williams, who finished his inaugural campaign in 2004 with 817.

After a slower start to the season, St. Brown has averaged 8.6 catches, 90.2 receiving yards and scored four touchdowns over his last five games. He currently has 82 receptions on the season, so he  won’t be able to pass Miami’s Jaylen Waddle (99) for the rookie receptions lead, but he can maintain second place over Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase (79).

Goff’s send-off

The last time we saw Jared Goff, he was going 21-for-26 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions in leading Detroit to a dominant win over Arizona, as Lions fans everywhere welcomed him back into their good graces after a second win in three weeks.

He’s expected to start Sunday, and in his last four games, he’s completed 69.47% of his passes, thrown nine touchdowns with two interceptions, and owns a quarterback rating of 105.1.

More: Detroit News scouting report: Lions vs. Packers

Granted, Sunday’s game likely won’t change anything for the Lions long-term. If — it’s a big ‘if’ — Goff ends up being the guy Detroit tries to ride into contention a few years down the road, it’s certain that the Jan. 9 finale will have nothing to do with it.

But even considering the downright nausea that Lions fans incurred while watching Goff do his job through the first 12 weeks, it’s reasonable — and somewhat of a marvel — to believe that he can save himself a summer of being a punchline if he’s able to deliver against the Packers.

This is a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ business, and a Lions win on Sunday would mean that lately, Jared Goff is on absolute fire.

Which defense shows up?

My mama always said the Lions’ defense is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

After giving up 38 to the non-playoff-bound Denver Broncos in Week 14, they held the Cardinals and Falcons to a combined 32 points over the next two weeks, before giving up 51 to Seattle a week ago.

Which Lions defense will show up this Sunday? There’s almost no way of knowing.

Against teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention entering Week 18, the Lions have given up an average of 28 points over nine games. Against opponents that have either clinched a playoff spot or have the chance to do so in Week 18, the Lions have given up an average of 26.42 points over seven games.

Of course, more goes into these numbers than just the opponent, but the fact remains: Good teams, bad teams, running teams, passing teams — it doesn’t really matter. You can’t set your watch to any of it.

Jags fans for a day

As we already covered, the Lions are unable to fall below the No. 2 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, no matter what happens on Sunday.

A win is all gravy. A loss can be softened by jumping to No. 1 via a win from the Jacksonville Jaguars, who currently sit 0.5 games ahead of the Lions in draft order and welcome in Indianapolis, which needs a win to get into the playoffs.

But don’t get your hopes up. Jacksonville has lost eight straight and has done nothing but tailspin since the Urban Meyer experience was brought to a fateful end. To make matters worse for the Jags, a football game isn’t even the primary focus at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday. A literal clown show (or ‘Klown out’) is.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jaguars fans plan to arrive at Sunday’s game dressed in clown garb and thick, curly mustaches akin to that of Jaguars owner Shad Khan, in protest of Khan’s decision to retain general manager Trent Baalke.

On the one hand, it’s nice to see that there are organizations in deeper sewage than the Lions. But on the other hand, it’s kind of shocking to see another fanbase show orchestrated contempt for their ownership in a way that Detroit has never reached.

God bless you, Jacksonville. We’re all Jags fans today.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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