Since the NFL started mandating divisional matchups in the final week of the regular season, the Packers have found themselves matched up against the Detroit Lions more than any other team. The divisional scheduling rule went into effect in 2010, and Sunday’s game will make the eighth time the Packers have finished their season against the Lions.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the state of the Lions over the past decade or so, these games have usually been pretty entertaining — and surprisingly consequential.
For instance, the first meeting under the scheduling rule came in 2011, when Matt Flynn (guided by Aaron Rodgers’ playcalling) outdueled Matthew Stafford on a snowy afternoon at Lambeau Field. Flynn threw six touchdowns as the Packers capped their 15-1 regular season with a bang. Unfortunately, the 2011 playoffs were canceled and we never got to see what became of that great team.
In 2014, the Packers hosted the Lions at Lambeau Field with an NFC North title on the line. Aaron Rodgers had to leave the game in the second quarter with a calf injury, but returned in the second half to lead the Packers to a 30-20 win.
The Packers traveled to Detroit two years later for another de facto NFC North title game. Left for dead at midseason, the Packers rallied for an impressive run as Detroit faded down the stretch. Detroit led 14-10 at the half, but three second-half touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers gave the Packers the win and the playoff spot that went with it.
The 2016 showdown was the first — and most consequential — in a four-year run of final-week meetings between the Packers and Lions. Unfortunately, 2017 and 2018 were total duds. Both years, the Packers were out of contention well before the opening kick. In 2017, Aaron Rodgers was on injured reserve as a result of the broken collarbone that had already ruined the Packers season, and in 2018, the Packers’ mid-season death spiral had resulted in the firing of Mike McCarthy. Rodgers left that game early with a concussion. Detroit won both by a combined score of 66-11, including a 31-0 shutout at Lambeau Field in 2018.
In 2019, though, the Packers and Lions got together for a game that was a little more meaningful and a lot more entertaining. A win would earn the Packers a first-round bye in the 2019 playoffs, and while the Lions technically had nothing to play for, the opportunity to play spoiler looked like more than enough motivation at first. As Green Bay sputtered out of the gate, the Lions looked determined to leave everything on the field. They surged to a 17-3 halftime lead, powered in part by a touchdown pass from wide receiver Danny Amendola to backup quarterback David Blough, who was starting in place of an injured Matthew Stafford. It was and remains Blough’s only NFL touchdown.
However, the Packers still had something to say about how the game would end. The Packers’ defense buckled down, limiting the Lions to a series of short drives in the second half. Five of Detroit’s second-half drives ended with punts or an interception, and none took more than five plays. Even the Lions’ lone second-half scoring drive only took five plays and 59 seconds of game time off the clock. Meanwhile, the Packers’ offense came to life in the second half, moving the ball well and putting up 20 points, culminating with a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Finally, the Packers capped off their 2021 season with a loss to the Lions that was insignificant in the standings, important in the Packers’ record books, and ultimately costly in the playoffs. The Packers had already secured a first-round bye heading into Week 18, so all that remained was to secure the Packers’ single-season yardage record for Davante Adams and get through the game healthy.
They managed to do the first part just fine. Adams caught six passes for 55 yards before calling it a day, giving him the season record of 1,553 yards.
However, fellow receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling left the game with what appeared to be a relatively insignificant back injury. But the injury lingered into the Packers’ bye week and then into the lead-up to their Divisional Round matchup with the 49ers. MVS ended up on the sideline for that game, which featured a very limited Packers passing attack.
The Packers won’t have the luxury of worrying whether or not they should play their starters against the Lions this time around, but maybe that’s for the better. Instead of wondering who they should be putting on the field, they only have one job: win. If they can do that, it won’t really matter who’s left standing after the dust settles.