Preview: Packers at Lions

This might be a classic trap game for the Green Bay Packers. Their final three games are up against three of the top teams in the NFL (Patriots, Giants, and Bears) and only the Lions stand between them. The intensity is down a little, the beat writers only came up with five questions for Mike McCarthy's press conference, and it's been a long season.

Plus the Lions are playing slightly better than their record. Having only been outscored 306 to 278 on the season is more indicative of a 5 win team, instead of a 2-10 record. But they've been dealing with some injuries, and they might be slumping down the stretch.

More on this game after the jump. And you can read more about the Lions at Pride Of Detroit.

Rankings from Football Outsiders:

Teams Run Offense Pass Offense Run Defense Pass Defense
Packers 10 7 16 3
Lions 27 20 26 24

Packers Offense vs. Lions Defense

Maybe the balance has been restored. With RB James Starks finally ready to play, last week against the 49ers, he essentially replaced RB Ryan Grant by taking a majority of the handoffs (18 carries), FB John Kuhn powered his way in the T-Formation for four first downs and one touchdown, and RB Brandon Jackson played more downs than either of them since he's third down back and a better pass blocker. Despite all the hype surrounding DT Ndamukong Suh, he's been very inconsistent this season. Last week against the Bears, RB Matt Forte and RB Chester Taylor seemed to have running lanes available to them despite the Bears poor offensive line (ranked No. 28 in run blocking). QB Aaron Rodgers says that teams aren't putting an eight man in the box against them, and I'm sure that will be the case against the Lions. The Packers will run the ball against the Lions, it's just a question whether it will be Starks leading the way again.

No pass defense has stopped Rodgers since the Jets game on Halloween. Under the best of circumstances, a matchup against the Packers would be tough for the Lions, and now they've just lost two starters to injury. Except another big passing game for the Packers. 

Lions Offense vs. Packers Defense

I've been unimpressed by RB Jahvid Best in large part because he's been limited by a serious toe injury all season, and he'll be a player to watch in 2011. The Lions have finally realized his limitations, and have given some carries to RB Maurice Morris over the last three weeks. It seems to be making a difference because the Lions have run the ball better over their last three games. The Packers run defense has struggled against RB Adrian Peterson and RB Michael Turner, but QB Shaun Hill was the Lions leading rusher against the Packers on October 3rd. Despite the absence of a game-changing running back, the Lions could have some success running the ball.

Any pass offense with WR Calvin Johnson has a chance at causing some havoc. I was surprised how well QB Drew Stanton played last week. The Bears defense is designed to give up short passes, and make their opponent work down the field before they make a mistake. Instead, Stanton did a good job of hitting on those short passes, and one of them turned into a long touchdown run for Johnson. The key will be to stop them from converting on 3rd down, which was a big problem back on October 3rd when the Lions went 10 for 17 on 3rd down conversions and kept the Packers offense off the field for a large chunk of the game. Watch out for TE Brandon Pettigrew, who was awful last week, but did well back on October 3rd and the Packers struggle against tight ends (see TE Vernon Davis last week).

Hidden Football

According to Team Rankings, the Packers have slipped and now only commit the 9th fewest penalties, but the Lions are near the bottom as the 2nd most penalized team. As usual, the Packers are one of the worst special teams units and the Lions are playing much better than them. Most of the Lions success has been due to KR Stefan Logan on kick returns (No. 1 average per ESPN), and the Packers lousy kick coverage is going to have to prevent the big play on Sunday.

Prediction

If the Lions can score 20 last week against the Bears, and 26 in October against the Packers, they can certainly put up over 20 points against the Packers on Sunday. The last time the Packers played inside against a team that is struggling on offense and defense, they beat the Vikings 31-3. The Lions usually play tough in the first half, and it might take until the 4th quarter before the Packers pull away. Packers 31, Lions 23.

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