Five things to watch as Lions battle Packers in prime time with playoff berth on the line

Lions TE James Mitchell celebrates.

Slowly but surely, win after win since Nov. 6, the Detroit Lions have forced the NFL to acknowledge that this is a young competitive team.

Many NFL fans around the country fell in love with the Lions through their appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks showing the fire and desire that starts with coach Dan Campbell and a team that has bought into everything he says.

With the flex move to Sunday night football, a nationally televised game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the NFL is giving a big nod to GM Brad Holmes, Campbell and the whole bunch.

Campbell has embraced it and, not surprisingly, the team has too.

“These opportunities don’t always come around, and I think you go through these things in life, and you don’t always know what they’re going to be, but one day you’re going to look back and say, ‘Man, you had these special moments that you were able to be a part of.’ And I try to tell those guys you just don’t know when those are going to come up or what it’s going to mean, but I know this, when you’re done playing, you miss the hell out of it,’’ Campbell said. “And this will be one of those moments I believe they’ll always remember, this group, this team.”

A win over the Packers and a Rams’ win over the Seahawks, will get Detroit into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016 season.

When they take the field, the Lions will know the results of the Rams-Seahawks matchup. They’ll know if a win will get them into the playoffs or just give them a huge opportunity to knock the Packers out of the playoffs.

If the Seahawks win, don’t expect a letdown from the Lions. They are built to win, they have pride and it will send a good message to the Packers and the NFL. Plus, they want to end the season with a winning record.

Five things to watch: 

1. The Lions defense found a way to tame Aaron Rodgers in Detroit’s Nov. 6 15-9 win over the Packers. They intercepted him three times and held him to just one touchdown. Even a Hall of Famer like Rodgers can be stopped. While he might be a better player than he was two months ago, there is no doubt the Lions rookie defensemen are much improved. “The guy is a hell of a player, and so it doesn’t matter if it’s Sunday night, Sunday afternoon, you’re playing for playoffs, it’s the first game of the year. Like to me, he’s a handful no matter when you play him,’’ Dan Campbell said. “I just don’t see anything different. I see an outstanding quarterback who has played and had an outstanding career, and I would anticipate he’s going to play one of his best games again.’’

2. It will be key for the Lions’ secondary to play a disciplined game. “I think that’s – that’s one of the key points for us is we’ve got to really hone in on this game plan. And man, we have to apply our rules and we’ve got to know them in and out and no matter what any and all eye candy that can be thrown at us, we don’t – you don’t take the cheese, man,’’ Campbell said. “Just stay true to your rules because that will, that’ll be big. That and then on offense, communication, we’re on the road we’re not going to be able to hear, it’ll be loud which is always a key when you’re on the road as an offense. Those are the big things, so confusion cannot be part of our game plan.”

3. One big reason for seven wins in the last nine games is that Jared Goff has been on fire. He’s gone eight games without an interception. So far he’s thrown 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Since the first of December he leads the NFL with a 113.0 passer rating and is tied for first with a dozen passing touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly for this game, Goff has playoff experience. “It does help because there again, this – the intensity of this game will go up. It will be played like a playoff game because it is win and get in or you don’t win and you go home one way or another, and so that’s – they’re looking at it that way, we’re looking at it that way,’’ Campbell said. “And so, I think out of all positions you want your quarterback to have been there and felt that a little bit. Of all of them he needs to make sure that his emotions are always on an even plane, and he can think through things like he has all year.’’

4. While there had been a stretch where the Lions’ run game was underperforming, they had their most productive rushing effort in the win over the Bears on New Year’s Day with 265 total rushing yards. Jamaal Williams (144 yards) and D’Andre Swift (78 yards rushing, 117 all-purpose yards) were key with three touchdowns between them. Williams, who is 6 yards shy of 1,000, needs just one more rushing touchdown to tie Barry Sanders for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 16. It’s not lost on Williams or his teammates. “We  think extremely highly of him, he’s been consistent for us as a runner and just really happy to see that run game pick up again last week. It was a lot easier as a play-caller to call that game,’’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “But for him there’s no doubt, I’m sure 1,000 means a lot. That’s certainly the most he’s had in his career, and then against his former team, I’m sure that would mean something to him.’’

5. Does Ben Johnson have more tricks in his playbook that we haven’t seen? Perhaps.  “Are you trying to get me to call a quarterback sneak? I called one for you last week. There you go, there we go. No, every week we look at opportunities that we could have to attack the defense, so this week’s no different than any other week,’’ Johnson said. “But no, we feel like we might have some shots here or there, and we’ll see if we can dial them up at the right time.”

(Prediction: Lions 31, Packers 27. Detroit is playing with confidence and is 3-2 in outdoor games. After a 1-6 start, the Lions want to prove themselves to a prime time audience.)

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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