To many, Week 18 might be a meaningless game for the Green Bay Packers with the NFC’s top seed already secured. But for a rebuilding Detroit Lions franchise, the final week of the season represents one last time to evaluate future role players.
Today’s musings discuss some of those players that will be on display for the Lions this week, but also touch on the Packers’ emerging players of their own. Can the Packers get their top four receivers on the field at the same time during the postseason and continue to be rewarded by their stable of pass-catching weapons outside Davante Adams?
Wide receiver corps is getting healthier and more dangerous at the right time
Davante Adams has been a stalwart all season long for the Green Bay offense and his chemistry with Aaron Rodgers was on full display last Sunday. He will be expected to receive the bulk of Rodgers’ targets once the postseason rolls around and be used in creative ways to get the ball in space, such as the pre-snap motion employed last year against Los Angeles. However, it became apparent against Minnesota that as talented as Adams is, the Packers have a full cast of dangerous targets around him for the playoffs.
Randall Cobb continues to attempt to work his way back from injury in time for the divisional round and his presence would make a significant difference in the slot - something the Packers did not have last year. As he gets healthier, Green Bay has received alternating standout performances from Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling nearly since Week 14. Lazard had his best game of the season versus Minnesota, according to Matt LaFleur, and his ability to win on contested catches only added to the value he has brought as a blocker. He now has two six-catch outings in the past five games. Meanwhile, MVS put forth a near 100-yard effort against Baltimore and his touchdown reception was among his best all-around plays as a pro. After battling injuries this season, there is a good chance that the best from MVS is yet to come as the postseason rolls around, especially as a deep threat where the splash plays are down in number from a year ago.
Saving the best for last is not new. Lazard (96 yards against the Rams) and MVS (115 yards versus Tampa Bay) rewarded the Packers with alternating performances last postseason, much like they have in recent weeks. As the Packers look to bring Cobb back into the fold and keep Adams healthy these next couple of weeks, their receiving corps should not only be more available, but even more threatening.
Packers fans will get a first-hand look at the Lions’ future this Sunday
Around the NFC North, a lot of attention has been placed on the Chicago Bears’ starting offensive tackles. The Bears doubled down at tackle during the 2021 NFL Draft and may have come away with their future bookend starters. In Detroit, the Lions doubled up on defensive tackles. While one became an immediate starter, the other is receiving headlines for the opposite reasons this week.
Levi Onwuzurike was selected in the second round by the Lions as a high-ceiling interior pass rusher, but has no sacks, no hits, and just one tackle for loss in his last 158 snaps as noted by MLive.com. Onwuzurike also has just one sack during his rookie campaign. Still, he plans to receive plenty of meaningful developmental snaps against Green Bay this week alongside third-round rookie Alim McNeill, who has earned six starts for the Lions’ defense and has two sacks in the past four games.
However, the pair of tackles make up just two of many first-year players that figure to see action in Week 18 as future members of the Lions’ core. Penei Sewell has had a solid rookie season at right tackle, while Amon-Ra St. Brown (playing against his brother Equanimeous) has blossomed into the team’s go-to receiver. Ifeatu Melifonwu also should get another start for the Lions this week at cornerback - a player the Lions are high on but have not seen for the majority of the season due to injury. Fellow corner AJ Parker has also turned in an impressive season as an undrafted rookie.
The Lions are far from a playoff contender, but Sunday afternoon should provide a glimpse of some of their building blocks.
If fully healthy, here is one way the Packers could employ their returning starters during the playoffs
Green Bay has been missing four notable players for some time in David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander, Josh Myers, and Cobb. As the Packers head into Week 18, they will likely wait on Cobb to fully heal and hopefully make a playoff return. However, with the other three players on the mend and potentially available against Detroit, Green Bay has an interesting opportunity to give each some practice reps before a more meaningful contest in two weeks.
Assuming a healthy return, here is how all three players could be utilized during the playoffs.
- Bakhtiari - Despite a yearlong layoff, Bakhtiari is among the most elite left tackles in the league. His absence was a significant reason behind Green Bay’s loss in the NFC Championship Game a year ago. If the Packers think his knee is a full go, Bakhtiari should get the nod at his usual left tackle spot. If Billy Turner is also able to return at right tackle, the moves allow Yosh Nijman and Dennis Kelly to serve as valuable postseason depth linemen.
- Myers - As promising as the rookie’s start was to the 2021 campaign, he remains exactly that: a rookie. Having not suited up since Week 6, it is more difficult to trust a strong and seamless comeback from Myers than Bakhtiari. Instead, with the Packers limited at the reserve center position, Lucas Patrick can remain the starter with Myers available in case of injury. Myers’ health gives the Packers some flexibility at guard as well, allowing Patrick to be able to slide over in a pinch.
- Alexander - This is one of the trickiest returns to assess on the squad. As reliable and talented as Alexander has been in his first three years, he also has not taken the field since Week 4. In the meantime, Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas have stepped up on the boundary. One area where the Packers have not been as formidable is in the slot. With Alexander’s ball skills and lateral quickness, he may be a fit in that “star” position and allow the other two corners to stay in their current roles. Continuity is important during the most crucial time of the season and Alexander’s ability to play the slot, moving Chandon Sullivan to a dime back role, could be an intriguing postseason adjustment.