Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers outcome will hinge on what happens in Seahawks-Rams game

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions (8-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-8)

The coaches: Lions — Dan Campbell (16-28-1 overall, 11-21-1 with Lions); Packers — Matt LaFleur (47-18 overall, 47-18 with Packers).

Last game: Lions beat Chicago Bears, 41-10. Packers beat Minnesota Vikings, 41-17.

Last meeting: Nov. 6, 2022: Lions won, 15-9.

Key matchups

Lions WR Amon-Ra St. Brown vs. Packers CB Jaire Alexander: Alexander boasted he would shut down Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson last week, and he made good on his word, holding the NFL’s best pass catcher to a career-low one catch for 15 yards. Alexander had plenty of help, as Campbell noted this week. “They doubled him a lot, too,” Campbell said. But he is one of the top cover men in the NFL and he’ll no doubt have a role in attempting to keep St. Brown in check this week. St. Brown spends a significant amount of time in the slot, so this won’t be a one-on-one matchup. But he’s Jared Goff’s go-to receiver on third downs and got-to-have-it situations. St. Brown had a modest four catches for 55 yards against the Packers in Week 9. The Lions need him at his best Sunday to win in Green Bay.

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Lions DE James Houston vs. Packers LT David Bakhtiari: The Lions have an impressive group of rookie defensive linemen, with none more productive than Houston. A sixth-round pick in April out of Jackson State, Houston has eight sacks — most among NFL rookies — and saw his role expand to include strong-side linebacker duties in the Lions’ base defense last week. Houston did not play in the first Lions-Packers game; he was on the practice squad then. And the Packers only had Bakhtiari for a half because of a knee injury. Bakhtiari is one of the best left tackles in the NFL when healthy, and he said recently he’s feeling the best he has “in a long time.” If he and the rest of the Packers’ offensive line can keep the Lions’ improved pass rush at bay, Aaron Rodgers could be in for a big game.

Scouting report

Lions run offense vs. Packers run defense

The Lions got their run game back on track in a big way last week, steamrolling the Bears for a season-high 265 yards. Things won’t be near as easy this week as the Packers have played in recent weeks than their 27th-ranked rush defense would indicate.

Jamaal Williams needs 6 yards to hit 1,000 for the first time in his career, and he’s one touchdown shy of matching Barry Sanders’ single-season franchise record (16). He should hit both those marks today against his old team as the Lions will have to slug out yards on a cold night. Williams is the Lions’ workhorse, but D’Andre Swift looked healthy last week in his best performance (78 yards) since September and adds a big-play element to the backfield.

The Packers overhauled their defense during their bye last month, much like the Lions did earlier this season, and are playing more Cover 2 zone with less blitzing. They’ve allowed 85.3 yards rushing per game the past three weeks, and they held the Lions to just 3.8 yards per carry at Ford Field in November. Edge: Lions.

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Lions pass offense vs. Packers pass defense

The last time the Lions played a road game outdoors in sub-optimal weather — two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers — they came out throwing. The Packers have better defensive talent than Carolina, but that won’t dissuade Ben Johnson from trusting Jared Goff and his offensive line in the biggest game of the year.

Goff has run his interception-less streak to 290 straight attempts, longest in the NFL. He’s doing a good job getting rid of the ball quick and spreading the love to all his playmakers. The Lions did not have DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds or Jameson Williams last time they played the Packers, when Goff finished with 137 yards passing and threw his most recent pick. They’re more equipped to challenge downfield Sunday.

The Packers have done a good job forcing turnovers — they have seven interceptions the past three games — with their mix of Cover 2 and Cover 6 defenses. Jaire Alexander is a shut-down cornerback, Rudy Ford covers tons of ground at safety and the Packers have generated enough interior pressure from Kenny Clark and Jarran Reed to stem the loss of top pass rusher Rashan Gary. Edge: Lions.

Packers run offense vs. Lions run defense

The Packers are at their best when they run the football, and they’ve leaned heavily on the ground game during their four-game win streak. That includes at least 32 rushes in three of their four wins; they’ve stayed committed to the run even when it has lacked efficiency.

Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon split backfield duties and have diverse skill sets. Jones needs 32 yards rushing to set a new career high, and he’s one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite targets in the pass game with 56 catches. Dillon is the pounder at close to 250 pounds. He has rushed for at least one touchdown in five straight games and has double-digit carries each of the past four weeks.

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The Lions appeared to fix their run defense in early December, but have given up 520 yards on the ground the past two weeks combined. Bears quarterback Justin Fields accounted for 132 of those yards before he was rendered ineffective by a hip injury, but the Lions won’t have to worry about Rodgers on designed rushing plays. Still, the Lions have been feast or famine against the run all year — they’re allowing 149.3 yards per game for the season —with little in between. Edge: Packers.

Packers pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Rodgers’ play has improved of late, thanks to more production from the run game and better protection up front. He looked shot in Green Bay’s Week 9 loss to the Lions; he threw three interceptions, including two in the red zone, while playing through a thumb injury most of the year.

Rookie Christian Watson has emerged as a bona fide receiving threat since that game. He’s big and long and will challenge the Lions’ leaky secondary downfield, and Jones and Allen Lazard are Rodgers’ security blankets. The Packers haven’t been great throwing the ball, but Rodgers is a four-time MVP and future Hall of Famer who’s accustomed to playing in big games.

The Lions rank 30th against the pass (249.4 yards per game) and have some personnel issues in the secondary. Jeff Okudah is dealing with an elbow injury and has lost snaps to Mike Hughes in recent weeks, while DeShon Elliott is expected back from a shoulder injury. The pass rush, led by Houston, Aidan Hutchinson and John Cominsky, will be key to limiting Rodgers’ air yards. Edge: Packers.

Special teams

The Lions have one of the most well-rounded special teams units in the NFL, and that has been a big part of their success. They rank in the top three in both kick and punt return average, punter Jack Fox is averaging 48.7 yards per punt and Michael Badgley has made 18 of 21 field goals. Last year, the Lions emptied their playbook in a season-ending win over the Packers, trying one fake punt and converting a wide receiver pass. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if coordinator Dave Fipp had something up his sleeve Sunday.

Kick returner Keisean Nixon has been a major catalyst for the Packers’ improved play. Nixon had a 105-yard return touchdown last week and has averaged more than 25 yards a return every game since Thanksgiving. Fipp said the Lions won’t kick away from Nixon; that might be impossible on a cold day. But the Lions do have to treat him like a weapon. The Packers have allowed two blocked punts this season and Mason Crosby is just 5-for-8 on field goals of at least 40 yards. Edge: Lions.


Campbell said Friday this is the type of special game players will remember for the rest of their careers: Sunday Night Football, the final game of the regular season, with a playoff berth potentially on the line. The Lions have embraced the magnitude of this week, and I think they’re a slightly better team than the Packers. They can win running or throwing the ball, their pass rush is a weapon and they’ve been opportunistic taking the ball away with their defense. I don’t think they’ll shrink if this turns out to be a win-and-get-in game. But there’s a human side to this, too. If the Seattle Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams in their 4:25 p.m. game, the Packers will be the only team with something on the line. The Lions won’t lie down, but that’s a tough hurdle to overcome. I think Seattle beats a decimated Rams team to win its ninth game, and the trickle down from that is that Rodgers and the Packers will sneak past the Lions in what should be an exciting night. The pick: Packers 28, Lions 27.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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