There are five Lions you must watch as the regular season comes to a close on New Year’s Day in the village of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The un-cosmopolitan town, with a population of 9,000 more than the Detroit suburb of Livonia, will host the Detroit Lions for a New Year’s Day showdown with little on the line.
On the flip side, the Lions have a brew keg full of reasons a win at Lambeau will help the franchise.
The obvious motivation is to end the regular season victorious, creating another end-of--year, four-game winning streak identical to the simulated playoff run the coaching staff created last year.
The win would also keep the Lions out of New Orleans or Frisco for the first round of the playoffs and send the Leos to either The Meadowlands or Jerry's World, where the matchup would be more favorable and the likelihood of another road victory would be much greater.
Additionally, from a historical perspective, a victory on the frozen tundra—yes, the forecast calls for wind and snow—would end the NFL’s longest road losing streak at 19 games.
The Lions new regime has been responsible for stopping many of the embarrassing streaks that are dubiously identified with Honolulu Blue & Silver, and crushing the Cheeseheads in Week 17 would just be another notch in the belt buckle of Jim Schwartz.
Plus, the team could ride the bus out of the Lambeau Field parking lot without the Casper white moonshots from the oversized stockholders of The Pack; that is what you call a New Year’s resolution!
This week’s Pro Bowl snubs of Stafford, Suh and Avril should serve for motivation for all three and fans should be happy the NFL and its fans turned their collective noses up towards these Lions. There’s nothing better than talented players who feel slighted and motivated to prove the doubters wrong; it bodes well for this team going forward.
Still, Eli Manning over Matthew Stafford? Did that really happen? The two things Eli has going for him is he plays in New York and came down the same birth canal as Peyton; other than that, both the stats and the human eye show Stafford is the superior quarterback.
That being said, it would make for great theatre if the Lions and Giants met next weekend, wouldn’t it?
Here are the Van Etten V...
Kevin Smith should get plenty of work if the ankle holds up.
In their first meeting, on Thanksgiving, Smith got off to a fast start with seven carries for 36 yards and three receptions for 21 yards before going down with the injury. At five and seven yard averages, Smith proved he could shoulder the load against the Packers, if healthy.
But it’s not just Smith’s talents that create this advantageous matchup, the Packers are middle of the pack, pun intended, giving up 114 yards per game, but are seventh worst in the league at 4.7 yards per attempt.
Most teams are playing from behind against the Packers, as Rodgers usually builds a lead requiring the opposition to put the ball in the air. With Rodgers likely to be shelved early in the game, a balanced attack from the Lions is possible.
As Calvin Johnson nurses a tender Achilles, the Lions would like nothing more than to use Megatron as a decoy and ensure his health for the playoffs by riding the running game.
Rob Sims should be very productive this week.
Did you see the Bears run behind the left side of their line against the Packers on Christmas?
The Packers were driven off the ball consistently and the Lions should do the same.
D.J. Smith, a rookie inside linebacker from Appalachian State, is still developing in Dom Caper’s 3-4 scheme as he completes his first NFL season.
I know the phrase “Ap-State” makes the hairs on the neck of many Michigan Wolverine fans stand on end, but Rob Sims played at Ohio State, so the intimidation factor should be at a minimum.
Look for Backus and Sims to win the battle up front and the Lions to have success moving the chains behind the mirror images of 76 and 67.
DeAndre Levy is having his best year as a professional.
The third-year linebacker willingly slid back outside to his natural OLB position and turned over the reins of calling the defense to Stephen Tulloch.
With 102 tackles, second only to Tulloch’s 104, I would say it’s worked out nicely.
The Packers passing tree should be limited when Matt Flynn enters the game, so the flats should be full of activity. Plus, with little to be gained, expect a vanilla game plan from Mike McCarthy with plenty of rushing attempts that will try and exploit the “Wide 9” philosophy of the Lions’ defensive ends.
Also, this will be a bit of a homecoming for Levy as he played his college ball at Wisconsin and grew up in Milwaukee; expect DeAndre to start the New Year with a strong effort.
Kyle Vanden Bosch has recorded a sack in four straight games prior to last weekend against the Chargers, expect the scarlet-eyed defensive captain to get back on track this weekend.
Matt Flynn should probably be taking a majority of the snaps as the Packers will protect their MVP from a ravenous pass rush that could not bring down Phillip Rivers on Christmas Eve.
Even with the best quarterback in football, the Packers have given up 38 sacks, 12th worst in the league. With Flynn taking a moment longer to process the information, KVB should be able to sack the Pack.
But the opportunities may be limited with the Green Bay preferring to keep the ball on the ground and shorten the game. I would not be surprised to see a couple reverses coming back at Kyle; he must stay home.
There is only one man who has been on the roster for all 19 of the Lions’ losses at Lambeau, Jason Hanson.
It would be fitting for Jason to end his Rolex regular season with a winning kick through snow covered uprights at Lambeau.
Beyond the difficulty of kicking in the elements, it will be critical for Hanson to send his kickoffs deep and minimize the damage of the Packers return team.
Rookie Randall Cobb is averaging nearly 28 yards per kick return and has taken one back 108 yards for a score. A Lambeau Leap from Cobb would be just the type of thing that could derail an unbelievable 6-2 road record for the Lions.
With both teams heading to the post-season and probably employing conservative game plans, the winner of Sunday’s game could come down to special teams and the Lions’ version this year has been less than spectacular.
Those are my five to watch. Happy New Year to all!!