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Entering the final week of the season, the Lions are an impressive 9-6. For that reason, I believe this matchup on the frozen tundra will be flex scheduled to Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Here’s how the NFC North will look before the game starts:
Green Bay 11-4 NFC North: 4-1
Chicago 10-6 NFC North: 3-3
Detroit 9-6 NFC North: 4-1
Minnesota 3-13 NFC North: 0-6
The Packers have locked up the division, holding the tie break against the Bears. The Lions find themselves a game behind Chicago for the second spot, and with a win, they could finish at 10-6.
I expect the race for the Wild Cards to be tight, and I believe the Cowboys, Saints, Buccaneers, Bears and Lions will all be within a game or two of each other. With the Saints and Buccaneers both playing in the same division, its unlikely both will arrive at season’s end with 10+ wins. I give the edge to the Buccaneers as Josh Freeman continues to prove he’s not a flash in the pan. The Cowboys will have to survive stiff competition in the NFC East, and looking at their schedule, I see them as a nine-win team.
The Wild Card Standings in the NFC look like this:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5
Chicago Bears 10-6
Dallas Cowboys 9-7
Detroit Lions 9-6
Meaning with a win, the Lions would jump Chicago (better divisional record) and claim a Wildcard spot.
Green Bay has a choice to make in this game. They’ve locked up the NFC North Championship, but the difference between a 12-4 record and an 11-5 record could impact seeding. Coach Mike McCarthy will have to decide if it’s worth risking injury to try and bump their win total to 12 and keep the Lions out of the playoffs.
The Packers should know better than anyone (except maybe the Bears) what a team with nothing to lose can achieve in the playoffs. Last season, the Bears had the opportunity to hold the Packers out of the playoffs by beating them in the final week of the season. The Bears failed and the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, knocking off the Bears in the NFC title game.
This game has all the makings of a classic. The resurgent Lions are returning from a decade of dormancy behind the young gun-slinger Matthew Stafford. They meet the Packers on the frozen tundra in the blowing snow with a playoff berth on the line: old NFC North rivals going at it in prime-time.
This game will be a low-scoring affair, with both quarterbacks feeling the pressure from the defenses and the elements. If the Packers decide to let Matt Flynn take the snaps in this one, the Lions will win the game and complete their return to relevancy. However, if McCarthy elects to give Rodgers the ball (as I believe he will) the Lions will fall just short of the playoffs, ending a miraculous season with a lot to look forward to.
Final Score A: Lions 23 Packers (Rodgers) 28
Final Score B: Lions 17 Packers (Flynn) 13