The bye week has come and gone and the run to Super Bowl XLVII begins now for the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers play five divisional games in the final seven contests and they begin Sunday in Detroit against the Lions. The teams enter the game going in opposite directions as the Packers are winners of four in a row and are 6-3, while the Lions are a somewhat surprising 4-5 and are looking to salvage their season against the Packers.
When it comes to NFC North games, the records usually don't mean a thing and the games are typically hard fought and close until the very end.
What are the keys to victory for the Packers in only their second divisional game of 2012?
Let's take a look.
If the Packers had even a somewhat healthy group of linebackers they wouldn't have much trouble getting a pass rush against a weak Lions offensive line.
Thanks however to a devastating string of injuries that has landed Desmond Bishop, Nick Perry and DJ Smith on injured reserve, as well as placing Clay Matthews out for the week, this could be a battle of attrition against the Lions.
All eyes will be on rookie Dezman Moses who excited the fans with stellar play in the preseason and saw extended action in the Packers' last game against the Arizona Cardinals. Both Moses and an improved Erik Walden will be key to getting to Stafford before he can line up a bullet to Calvin Johnson.
Speaking of Johnson, he is the Detroit Lions offense. He and Stafford make up one of the most lethal combinations of quarterback and wide receiver in the NFL.
However, with the loss of Nate Burleson for the season, Johnson has become the only true weapon Stafford has and that's allowed defenses to focus on Johnson, which has limited his production so far this year.
Yes, he went over 200 yards receiving last week and had 129 the week before, but he only has two touchdowns in 2012. With Stafford only throwing 11 touchdown passes thus far, it stands to reason that a quarterback under pressure is responsible for Johnson's lack of touches in the end zone.
The search for a featured running back continues for the Lions, and while he only has 418 yards on the season on an average of 15 carries per game, Leshoure has shown some promise.
Leshoure is elusive and has been able to break a few decent runs. He's not yet the weapon Kevin Smith once was, but on a team that is pass heavy as the Lions are, the running back does not need to run for 1500 yards a season. They just need to get a defense to respect the run enough to open things up for Stafford.
The Packers are playing solidly against the run, but they have a tendency to let bad teams hang around and make average opponents look like Pro Bowlers. The Packers need to break that habit if they want to surpass the Bears and win the NFC North.
Even though he was not having his best season, the loss of Bryan Bulaga is big blow to the Packers offensive line.
The Packers once again are struggling to keep Rodgers upright despite the quarterback's unique athleticism. Coach Mike McCarthy realizes that having having Rodgers on the move constantly is going to get his quarterback hurt. After Rodgers suffered a concussion in Detroit in 2010, McCarthy will need to make sure the line takes good care of his quarterback.
With Cliff Avril returning to practice yesterday, the Lions will be blitzing Rodgers often. The introduction of Evan Dietrich-Smith to the starting lineup will be a wild card in this game. How well he performs very well could decide whether or not the Packers win this one.
Even without Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the Packers proved they have the best group of wide receivers in the NFL.
Nelson is expected to return this week but the emergence of James Jones and the versatile Randall Cobb has added even more explosiveness to an offense that already had an incredible knack for the big play. With the Lions being especially weak in the secondary, Rodgers could very well have another big game with four or five touchdown passes.
Cobb in particular is a big threat. If the Lions couldn't shut down Percy Harvin, they're probably going to have just as much trouble with Cobb.
We all know what happened last year when the Packers paid a visit to Ford Field.
In a game the Lions lost total control of, Ndamukong Suh was ejected for stomping on Dietrich-Smith, who ironically will be a starter for this game. The maturity issues for the Lions are well documented, from the Suh stomp to the Harbaugh/Schwartz handshake to repeated off field issues.
Rodgers has shown the ability to frustrate defenses with his athleticism and pinpoint accuracy, so if he can rattle the Lions early and force some personal foul penalties, the road to victory will be that much easier for the Packers.
It's been the pet peeve of so many Cheeseheads when it comes to the Packers defense.
Every single time the Packers build even a somewhat comfortable lead (10 points or so), they suddenly drop into a soft zone on defense. The Packers send only a three-man rush and the secondary is almost in a kind of prevent defense. This, in turn, lets opponents back into the game and makes the score even closer than it actually looks.
With five divisional games on the docket, the Packers can no longer afford to play that kind of defense. If they want to have a home game at Lambeau Field in January, they are going to have to learn to step on the throats of their opponents.
Starting with the Lions.
The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010 as the most injured team in the NFL.
They will probably be in the same position should they win the Lombardi Trophy again in February. The injury situation this time around is even worse, it can be argued, and the defense in particular has been hard hit.
Thanks to a "restocking of the cabinet" by Ted Thompson in the NFL Draft this past April, the future appears bright for the Packers. Their young players are getting playing time sooner than expected and some, like rookie Casey Hayward, have been playing very well.
Still the Packers cannot afford to lose anyone else for an extended period of time, most notably their quarterback. The "next man up" philosophy has served them well so far, but a team can only take so much.
Thanks to a leaky offensive line, the Lions will need to be on their heels against a Packers defense that thrives on forcing turnovers.
Even without Clay Matthews, the Packers young secondary has shown a nose for finding the football. If the linebackers and defensive line can continually establish pressure on Stafford, then the Lions quarterback will be forced into making some bad decisions.
He's no Jay Cutler, but Stafford still has a habit of making some bad throws judged by his eight interceptions so far on the season.
The Packers also could knock the ball out of Leshoure's hands. He's fumbled twice this season and being a young running back, he's going to make some mistakes.
The key for the Packers is being the catalyst for those mistakes.
Remember what I said earlier about Capers being soft on defense once the Packers built a comfortable lead?
Well, the same goes for McCarthy and the offense.
The Packers have tendency to go conservative on offense when they get up by just a little more than seven points. They go either exclusively to the run or McCarthy goes to a dink and dunk offense instead of letting his MVP quarterback drive the ball right down the opponent's throat.
The Packers want to serve notice that the NFC North still belongs to them and there is no better way than blowing out their divisional rivals.