It wasn't long ago that people wondered if the Lambeau Magic had disappeared. That this Packers team - full of warm-weather natives - was actually better suited to play in a dome. That their biggest advantage (speed) might actually be more of a benefit on the road versus battling the elements in Green Bay.
Now, whether you believe the Packers home field advantage ever really faded is up to you, but one thing's clear - it's back this year. We're obviously not done with the regular season but through 7 games at home so far, the Packers average margin of victory is just a ridiculous 20.71 (up from 12.3 in 2012 and 18.5 in 2011). That number is obviously skewed due to two 50-burgers dropped on the Bears and Eagles, but still, that's a margin of nearly three touchdowns per game.
If there's any question about the importance of tomorrow's game against the Lions, there really shouldn't be. Win and the Packers get a bye and a playoff game (assuming the Seahawks don't lose, in which case, it could be two games) at home. Lose and they're almost certainly on the road the rest of the way. We've seen them do it before, but if the Packers want to advance to the NFC Championship for the first time since 2010, playing in Lambeau - especially in 2014 - would go a long way. Let's take a look at 5 things to watch this weekend:
The Packers are coming off a win, but they were far from the well-oiled machine they've been all season. For the Lions, that plays perfectly into what kind of game they'd like to turn this into. By and large, the Lions have survived this year on a stout defense and doing just enough to gut out ugly wins. If they can turn this game into another grind-it-out affair, their odds of winning the NFC North improve big time. Expect them to do everything they can do just that.
Adams right now looks about as confident as I would in a Rucker Park pickup game. And with good reason - he's dropping passes like he's allergic to leather. Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson have both had career years which bodes well for the Packers passing game, but I'll make a not-so bold prediction - the Packers are going to need Davante Adams again at some point this year. Defenses are just too savvy to let two receivers continually get open, meaning that if Adams has hit the vaunted rookie wall, he needs to find a way over it.
Pressure on Stafford
We've become comfortable with the Jay Cutler/Jeff George comparisons but what about Matthew Stafford? At this point, who really knows what to make of him - is he Archie Manning with a big arm? A poor man's Marino? Stafford remains one of the more enigmatic QB's in the league, but one thing remains constant - turnovers. Incredibly, Stafford is looking at a career low in interceptions (currently sitting at 12, which is one fewer than Geno Smith) but that ignores that he's never thrown for less than 16 in one year. Still, Stafford is still capable of making huge throws in huge moments (see their win against Miami) meaning that if the Packers want to force him into bad decisions, the pressure will have to be there.
I said a number of weeks ago that the Packers will go as far as their offensive line can take them. Aaron Rodgers is obviously the catalyst to their offensive success, but he can't do that when he's getting smashed into middle earth. Thankfully, the Packers offensive line has been consistently excellent this season. Against the Lions though, their job will be as tough as it gets. Nick Fairley has been out most the season but Ndamukong Suh and Ziggy Ansah have been their usual terrorizing selves, making the Lions front line the best in the NFL.
After missing 5 games with an ankle injury, Reggie Bush is back to doing Reggie Bush things. That's not great news for the Packers. Most view Calvin Johnson as the Lions' biggest offensive threat, but the Packers secondary has held up fine against opposing #1 wideouts (you know, except for that Julio Jones fellow). Bush on the other hand, presents problems for what might be the weakest overall position the Packers have - linebacker. Clay Matthews has been on a tear lately, but there's a good chance A.J. Hawk is still chasing Kyle Rudolph. And while Sam Barrington and Julius Peppers have been good as well, neither play particularly well in space or coverage, where Bush does most of his damage.