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

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.)

Lions Dan Campbell on Packers game: ‘Let’s have the time of our life and find a way to win’

ALLEN PARK — Often coaches won’t buy in — at least publicly — that one game in the 17-game NFL season is bigger than any other.

Lions coach Dan Campbell stands apart. Instead of just another week, he is pounding home the importance of the Lions’ Sunday night matchup at Green Bay. After all, it is not just another week.

A win over the Packers (8-8), along with a Rams win over the Seahawks, gets Detroit (8-8) a wild-card playoff berth. From a 1-6 record to the playoffs is quite a storyline and is one reason the NFL flexed the schedule to put the Lions on the national stage for just the second time all season and in prime time for the first time.

The Lions will know at their kickoff if the Rams won. If the Seahawks win, the Lions can play spoiler and knock the Packers out of the playoffs.

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown doesn’t foresee a letdown if Seattle wins.

“I think for us whether Seattle wins or not, for me personally I want to have a winning season, last year we only won three games, to have a winning season is huge for this organization as a whole, for this team moving forward,’’ St. Brown said. “Whether we’re winning to go to the playoffs or winning to not let the Packers make the playoffs, either one is huge for us. We want a winning record at the end of the season.’’

A win would give the Lions a 9-8 record after going 3-12-1 last season 

“Our guys one way or another, I think they’re going to embrace it, I really do, no matter what happens,’’ Campbell said.

The coach’s message to the team was basically to enjoy it.

“You say what it is, you say the reality of it, you say the reason why, that’s where they want you at. Then you say, ‘Hey man, we’ve got nothing to lose. We go in, we’ve got nothing to lose, we cut it loose. Let’s have the time of our life and let’s find a way to win this game,’’ Campbell said. “The bottom line is I can just gauge the room and you can feel it. We get to be on the big stage and our guys are excited about that …’’

Quarterback Jared Goff has been through the playoffs all the way to the Super Bowl with the Rams. But he also lived through Campbell’s first season last year.

“It’s big man, it’s really big. We’re excited for it,’’ Goff said. “It’s something we’ve earned, we’re playing for a playoff spot, we’ve been through a lot this year.‘’

Facing Packers, not just another game for Lions; playoffs on line for both

ALLEN PARK — Dan Campbell was pumped on Monday, more so than all season.

This is not just another week for the Detroit Lions. A win at Green Bay on Sunday (plus a Rams’ win over the Seahawks) would earn the Lions  a wild-card playoff spot,

For most of the season, not being too high or low is the mantra.

However, this is NFL Week 18. The Lions-Packers game has been flexed to the 8:20 p.m. slot on Sunday night. The Rams and Seahawks play at 4:25 p.m. so the Lions will know if they’re playing for a playoff spot or as a spoiler for the Packers.

“We tell them the magnitude. This is big, that’s what we do. This is big. It’s going to be fun. Let’s go. The intensity is up, this is a playoff game and they’re going to know that,’’ Campbell said. “That’s how we’re going into it.’’

The Lions (8-8) have won seven of their last nine, including a 41-30 thumping of the Bears on Sunday at Ford Field. Detroit’s winning stretch started with a 15-9 win over the Packers on Nov. 6 at Ford Field. In that game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers passed for 291 yards but was intercepted three times (Kerby Joseph for two, Aidan Hutchinson for one). 

Since that Nov. 6 matchup, the Packers (8-8) have also won seven of nine, including a 41-17 dismantling of the Vikings (12-4) on Sunday.

“This defense is a very good defense, the special teams you saw it, they have the ability to make plays in their return game. Offensively, they’re playing better. They are. We talked about it as a staff, this is a better football team than we played the first time,’’ Campbell said. “Then the’ve got Aaron Rodgers, we all know he’s one of the best to play the game.’’

Campbell said the key to Green Bay’s recent success is they are clicking in all three phases and that’s what makes them dangerous.

However, the Lions are not the same team either.

“We’re better too, we’ve made a jump as well. We’re better too, there’s not question. The win started us in the right direction the last time we played them and we really haven’t looked back,’’ Campbell said “This is one of those games you look forward to being a part of, as a player, as a  coach, the fans are going to love this.I just think it’s great.

Even if the Lions don’t get that playoff berth, playing a meaningful game in Week 18 is part of the growth of this young team.

“I think this is what you want them to taste. They need to feel this. They need to understand what this is because this has got to become the norm. This has to become the norm, and then once you get – you start to understand this. Then, it becomes – you’re playing for the Division, you’re playing for where your seeding is going to be. That’s coming,’’ Campbell said. “But right now, to get a taste of all this right now and be in the hunt, be in the run, I think is huge for our guys.”

Even with a win over the Packers, the Lions need the Rams to beat the Seahawks on Sunday to get into the playoffs. If the Rams don’t come through, the Lions can play spoiler to the Packers who just need a win over Detroit to make it to the postseason.

(Next up: Lion at Packers, at 8:20 p.m. on Sunday.)