The Sunday Night Football forecast calls for snow at Lambeau Field. But when the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers face off in prime time, fans can expect things to heat up between two of the NFL's most explosive offenses
After such a promising season in 2011, the Lions (4-8) have been one of the league's biggest disappointments in 2012. While nearly everyone expected this team to take a step (or three) forward, the Lions have fallen back into old habits—penalties, turnovers, mental errors and coaching mishaps. When the Lions play well, they can stick with everyone. However, the Lions have given away more games than any good team ever should.
The Packers (8-4) have had their own share of disappointments this season—losing to the New York Giants in front of a national audience, getting shocked by Andrew Luck and whatever happened in Seattle with the replacement refs. With the running game completely depleted, the pressure will be on Aaron Rodgers to stay perfect heading into and through the playoffs.
So who wins in the Sunday night snow?
Key Storyline No. 1: Can Calvin Johnson Break Jerry Rice's Record?
Last week, Johnson tied an NFL record with his fifth-straight 125-yard receiving game. Detroit Lions' legend Pat Studstill is the only other person to have ever done so, somewhat fittingly in a year (1966) when the Lions finished 4-9-1.
Studstill isn't the only historic receiver Johnson wants to catch, however, He is 420 yards away from Jerry Rice's single-season receiving mark of 1,848. Johnson needs to average 105 yards per game over the next four games. It's an easy mark, yes, for one of the NFL's best players, but the Lions face three stingy defenses (Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago) to close out the season.
If Johnson has any chance of catching Rice, he'll need a big mark against the Packers on Sunday night.
Key Storyline No. 2: Are the Packers Still One of the Teams to Beat in the NFC?
As much as Packer fans would love to be undefeated, it's important to remember they do have some quality wins this season—Chicago, Houston—and they've looked good doing it. The defense is vastly improved from recent seasons and the offense can still move the ball with ease.
After the Lions, Green Bay has to travel to Chicago in Week 15 and then (for all intents and purposes) their regular season could be over. Tennessee and Minnesota won't give them them much of a struggle, Plus, the the Packers might be preparing for the playoffs, anyway.
How Green Bay plays against Chicago next week and how they take care of business on Sunday night will largely define how they enter the playoffs and what their seeding will be.
Keys for the Detroit Lions
It should be no surprise that, to win the game, the Lions need to pass the ball and stop the pass.
Who Wins on Sunday Night?
The first part of that should be easy as the Lions' first-ranked passing offense meets up with the Packers' 17th-ranked passing defense. It's strength-on-weakness and no one on the Packers' defense is going to be able to match up with Johnson. They can shade, double or throw whatever they want at Megatron, and the Lions will still find ways to get the ball into his hands.
That said, the Packers are also great at getting to the quarterback, so Matt Stafford needs to stay out of harm's way as well. The Lions have had some success running the ball with Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. If the Lions sit back and try to pass on every down, the Packers will get to Stafford, even without Clay Matthews.
On defense, the Lions are struggling to get the important stops to win games, but their passing defense (18th) isn't terrible. Their defensive line is creating pressure and should be able to do so against the Packers' front as well.
The biggest key for the Lions, of course, is that they keep the self-defeating errors under control. No offense to the Packers, but the Lions have just as much chance of beating the Lions tonight as their opponents do.
Keys for the Green Bay Packers
To some extent, the Packers simply need to do what they do well. If they continually put pressure on the Lions' secondary, they will force them into errors.
Yes, Rodgers might take a few sacks, and, yes, the Lions might get a few extra chances if the wind picks up in Green Bay. Yet, the Packers need to take that chance as they are not beating the Lions on the ground.
It sounds crazy, but the Packers might have their best success letting Johnson beat them. Leave Tramon Williams out on him one-on-one, let him get his yardage and get after Stafford with an extra rusher. If Stafford throws an errant pass (or a dozen) in whatever weather Lambeau has to offer, the Packers' defense could manage to get more catches than Megatron.
Bold Prediction: The Packers Will Score Twice On Returns
The Lions' special teams have been a mixed bag under Jim Schwartz as the bottom part of the roster seems to constantly be overhauled while injuries have forced some of the Lions' better special-teamers into defensive action.
Whether it's kicks, punts or interceptions, the Packers will get two scores on returns on Sunday night.
Player of the Game Prediction: Jermichael Finley
In the last three games, Finley has been targeted 15 times and has converted those targets for 12 catches, 177 yards and a touchdown. The last time the Lions faced Finley, he had three catches in three targets for 66 yards and that TD. They can't cover him. They don't have anyone at either linebacker or safety who can even try.
The Packers will have seen that and the Packers will exploit that.
Finley's play, added to the return touchdowns mentioned above, will be the difference in this game. Look for the Lions to keep it close (as they usually do), but for the Packers to give them more than they can handle.
Final Score Prediction: Packers 31; Lions 24
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at "The Go Route."