Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers: 5 Big Questions for Sunday's Game
In the final week of the regular season, the Green Bay Packers will face their division rival, the Detroit Lions. The Packers, who are sitting at 14-1 and have clinched everything necessary to get the coveted home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, will likely be resting starters as they face a 10-5 Lions team that may still be playing for a No. 5 seed in the NFC playoff hunt.
This game will not likely hold a lot of meaning in the NFC playoff picture, except possibly determining the exact seeding of the two wild-card teams. However, it should still be an interesting matchup between two NFC playoff teams who also happen to be division rivals.
Here are five big questions that will be answered on New Year's Day when the Packers and Lions play the final game of the regular season.
5. What Will the Weather Have in Store for These 2 Teams?
Lambeau Field has been historically known as "The Frozen Tundra," especially around this time of year when the playoffs hit. It hasn't snowed during a game at Lambeau Field since the Packers hosted the NFC Championship Game in 2007, but as we hit winter in Wisconsin, there will be sure to be some snowy days ahead.
If it does snow on Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the offense responds. Many have speculated that the Packers offense will be best suited to play in domes, which could turn home-field advantage into a disadvantage if true.
While we likely won't see many of the starting Packers offensive players for most of the game, a snowy day at Lambeau will still give us an idea how this team will respond to harsh weather conditions.
4. Will the Lions Have Much To Play For?
The Lions have the chance to clinch the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, but it is unclear whether or not this incentive will have them playing starters for the majority of the game.
The Falcons play at 4:15 p.m. against Tampa Bay, so the Lions will not know whether they clinched the higher seeding, but since they already clinched a playoff berth, they may not want to risk injury to their players, especially their quarterback, who has been injured in the past.
However, if I were to make a prediction, it would be that the Lions play their starters for the majority of the game. Not only would they like to beat the Packers in Wisconsin for the first time in decades, but they would likely want to avoid playing the Saints in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, something that would likely happen if they settled for the No. 6 seed.
3. How Many Snaps Will Chad Clifton Get?
Veteran left tackle Chad Clifton hasn't played since the Week 5 game in Atlanta, but the Packers are hoping to play him against Detroit this week. This could be a risky move, as Clifton has had recent problems with injury, and to play him in a meaningless game could prove to be a mistake.
However, the Packers will likely only play Clifton for a portion of the game, in an effort to give him his first real game action since October, so he can contribute in the playoffs.
If Clifton plays, he will be effectively covering either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn's blindside, which will give them a better chance to run the offense effectively against a stout Lions defensive line. But with such a physical line that has been known to hurt people, it may not be smart to play Clifton for long.
2. Who Will Start and Who Will Sit on Defense?
The outcome of this game could greatly be affected by who is playing on defense. Two of the best defensive players, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, are questionable for Sunday's game, and it wouldn't be surprising if they were both out for the game to avoid their injury in a meaningless game.
Matthews and Woodson sitting out the game will greatly hurt the Packers' chances of pulling out a victory, as Matthews' pass-rushing skills and Woodson's ball-hawking skills are unmatched. In addition, Woodson has been a key leader on this defense and has had to step up even more as a leader with Nick Collins being out for the season.
With Matthews gone, the linebackers and defensive line will probably put in a solid performance, as they still have talent at both positions, and Ryan Pickett and A.J. Hawk will likely be able to provide the veteran leadership necessary. However, I seriously doubt that they will be able to get to the quarterback in the same way.
In the secondary, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields will fill in nicely for Woodson, but I worry about the corners in the middle of the field—namely Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee, both of whom have struggled on defense.
This defense has survived with players being out before, just look at what happened last year, but if they rest some of their key defensive players, the defense will likely struggle against a Lions offense that has been able to put up points...
1. How Long Will Aaron Rodgers Play?
It is questionable whether Aaron Rodgers will play at all in Week 17, as the Packers have already wrapped up everything needed to make this a meaningless game. In addition, they have a backup quarterback in Matt Flynn who could be a starter next year, and the Packers may want to consider trading him next year.
This game could give Matt Flynn a chance to prove to other teams that he has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. Mike McCarthy said that he would like to have all three quarterbacks start, so Graham Harrell could even get a shot to play in the fourth.
I think that even if the Packers start Flynn from the beginning, they will be in a good position to put up points in this game. Flynn is a talented quarterback who knows this offense well. He shined against the New England Patriots in 2010, and played well in the limited action we've seen him in so far.
If Flynn leads the Pack to a victory, it will greatly enhance his resume, and it will make him prime trading bait for the 2012 offseason.