The question even stopped Mike Ditka, the former Chicago Bears head coach and ESPN analyst, in his tracks.
Are you surprised the NFC North Division championship has come down to Green Bay and Detroit?
In preseason interviews with the Ditka, the Packers were a popular pick among NFL pundits to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 51, which will be televised in Western Wisconsin on FOX 25/48. The Lions were not in that conversation, as Ditka thought the division title would come down to Green Bay and Minnesota.
“Well, it’s the NFL and Matthew Stafford has really carried Detroit,” Ditka said. “The Lions don’t have much of a running game and their defense isn’t the greatest, but they’ve won a lot of close games. Give Stafford and Detroit credit on being there at the end. The games aren’t played on paper.”
The 9-6 Lions, on the heels of two consecutive losses to Dallas and the New York Giants, host the 9-6 Packers Sunday evening. Green Bay comes into the showdown riding a five-game winning streak with a red-hot quarterback.
Momentum or not, Ford Field will be a sell-out frenzy as Detroit attempts to win its first division crown since 1995, when the long-suffering franchise finished with an 11-5 record.
Green Bay is on a mission, trying to “run the table” that quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned was possible back in November following a four-game losing skid.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that his team is “Going to Detroit to win the division.”
This is the fourth consecutive season that the Packers are playing for the division title in Week 17. Last year, Green Bay lost to Minnesota in Lambeau Field. In the previous two seasons the Packers defeated the Bears, 33-28, in Chicago (Rodgers-Cobb TD pass) and the Lions, 30-20, in Green Bay.
Rodgers, despite nagging injuries, has been the hottest quarterback in the NFL for the past five games, completing 115 of 161 passes (71.4%) with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has averaged 273 yards passing per game in that span—with a sterling 119.8 quarterback rating.
The Packers offense is running on all cylinders with the emergence of running back Ty Montgomery and tight end Jared Cook. Stafford is the Lions’ offense, and their running game is the worst in the league with injuries to Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
The Packers defense, which has struggled in coverage all season, will strive to keep them one-dimensional. The improved play of injured Clay Matthews was a huge boost in the victory over Minnesota. The Lions defense may be bolstered with the return of their best cornerback, Darius Slay—who will be matched up on Jordy Nelson.
Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb (if healthy) will definitely try to exploit the depleted Detroit secondary.
“Rodgers is the best quarterback in football—right up there with (Tom) Brady,” Ditka said. “Aaron and coach McCarthy will go after the Detroit defense, but they have a running game too. Detroit doesn’t. Green Bay has been on a run and will be tough to beat.”
Week 17 NFL Picks
No Hail Mary needed this time in Detroit. But the will and right arm of Aaron Rodgers will figure prominently against a suspect Detroit secondary—with or without stellar CB Darius Sly. Green Bay has too much firepower and balance.
Packers 33, Lions 24