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Preview: Green Bay at Detroit

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Two weeks ago it looked like this Thanksgiving game was going to decide who would take the NFC North division lead. Detroit demolished Denver to go 6-2 while the Packers came from behind at Kansas City to remain ahead at 7-1. Since then, the Packers destroyed Minnesota and cruised to a comfortable win against Carolina to go 9-1 while Detroit lost at Arizona and at home against the NY Giants to fall back to 6-4. These are still important games because if Detroit wins both games against the Packers they can pull within one game and would control the tie-breaker.

Teams FO Ranking NFL Ranking
Packers Rushing Offense 11 32
Detroit Rushing Defense 8 8
Detroit Rushing Offense 28 29
Packers Rushing Defense 4 7
Packers Passing Offense 4 1
Detroit Passing Defense 18 30
Detroit Passing Offense 17 9
Packers Passing Defense 15 19
Packers Special Teams 10
Detroit Special Teams 31

Looking at the rankings from Football Outsiders and it looks like this is a game the Packers should easily win. Detroit's strengths are passing the ball and stopping the run, but Football Outsiders' rankings show that Detroit's pass offense is actually below average. While Detroit's run defense is solid, the Packers run offense looks a lot better by Football Outsiders' metrics and RB Ryan Grant (who should be healthy on Thursday) just had a big 100 yard game against Minnesota's great run defense. Detroit should have trouble running the ball or stopping QB Brett Favre, and their special teams are one of the worst units in the league. The Packers have outscored their opponents 259 to 159 which is the sign of an elite NFL team, while Detroit has been outscored 231 to 232 which is the sign of a .500 team.

However Detroit can still win this game because of turnovers. Despite all of Detroit's problems, the strength of their team is their opportunistic defense. Detroit is 2nd in the NFL in grabbing interceptions and 1st in recovering fumbles. The Packers are 9-0 this season when allowing two or fewer turnovers, but in their one loss to Chicago, WR James Jones fumbled away two scoring drives and Favre threw his ugliest interception of the season right to LB Brian Urlacher on a busted play. The closest comparable team to the Packers this season is Tampa Bay with an elite offense and an above average defense, and they lost in Detroit earlier this season. QB Jeff Garcia had a 300 yard passing game, RB Earnest Graham had almost 200 yards of total offense, and Tampa's defense held Detroit to under 300 yards in total offense, but Detroit recovered two Garcia fumbles, one when Tampa was near Detroit's goal line and another led to a WR Calvin Johnson TD, and they won the game by 7 points. Those two turnovers led directly to a 10 to 14 point swing, and although Tampa outplayed Detroit for most of the game, the Detroit's opportunistic defense made big plays when they needed them to win. If the Packers can't protect the ball, then Detroit will win by a score of something like 27-20.

Still the Packers have been careful with the ball in 9 out of 10 games this season, so the odds look good that they will take care of the ball on Thursday. If the Packers avoid turnovers, then they should win a close game (playing arguably the biggest game in Detroit since RB Barry Sanders retired will make this a closer game than the rankings would indicate) by the score of around 23-17.