2012 NFC Championship Preview: Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers

Joye PruittSenior Analyst IOctober 2, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 02:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions celebrates his touchdown in the endzone with teammates Rob Sims #67 and  Gosder Cherilus #77 during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Pay attention to the NFC. At the beginning of the season, the NFC ranks stood solid with the returning Super Bowl champs, the Green Bay Packers, riding on top of the league and teams like Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Philadelphia not flaking off the wagon too far behind.

No one was going to give the Chicago Bears their due simply because of Bears’ QB Jay Cutler’s demeanor and reputation for not giving a damn what anyone says about his body language and the way he runs Chicago’s offense. Fans do not take very kindly to not having much of a say so over their players’ mentality and fear of false perception.

Teams like St. Louis, Dallas and the New York Giants were not exactly counted out of the races, however, none of them have that eye-grabbing playmaker that would exhume their reputations long enough to consider them viable competitors in a tough conference like the NFC.

The rest of the teams sit at the bottom waiting for their honorable mention or simply the recognition that they have come a long way and have a brighter future with their 2011 NFL draft picks and/or offseason free agency signings.

Then there was the Detroit Lions, sitting comfortably in the middle somewhere in between “Eh, they’re looking pretty good in the preseason, but it’s the preseason” and “Wow, they could really make some things happen in the postseason!” Now, after matching the biggest comeback in franchise history, something else has to be stated about the recovery of a team who was once the laughingstock of the league.

Those chuckles spilled into the early moments of Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys until two pick sixes and an unloading of passes into Megatron’s arms gave the city something to ultimately smile about.

So, what predictions do we make from here? What direction is Detroit headed in?

The NFC Championship Game is the first stop to conclusive redemption. It may be a little early for anyone else to predict the Detroit Lions arrival at such a big stage in such a long time. However, the way they have battled back from large deficits against decent teams in their own conference away from home should give fans and non-believers a bit more faith into their future.

Their opponents in NFC Championship Game will most likely be the undefeated Green Bay Packers, as they have proven little change works wonders for a franchise that has everything they could possibly need while working towards another huge season victory.

The matchup will be one for the record books and here are a few reasons why.

Neither team uses their RBs as solid members of their game plan. Although James Starks can be seen bursting off of the line of scrimmage for 3rd-and-short downs for Green Bay, the Packers’ West Coast offense forges Aaron Rodgers’ identity as a premiere passer in the league.

The offense works perfectly around Rodgers eagle-eye passing skills and his receivers are some of the best in the league at running precise routes and making plays after the catch.

Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions share the sense of “win it in the air” with a receiving corps that includes Calvin Johnson, TE Brandon Pettigrew, WR Titus Young and WR Nate Burleson. RB Jahvid Best comes on the field to pick up a few yards for Detroit’s offense, but the quick, short and precise passes are what primarily move the Lions down the field.

This matchup between the two franchises will put up huge numbers for passing yards, but the  true determinant will be whichever defense is able to anticipate passing routes, get through their opponents’ offensive line and put pressure on the QB to reroute his receivers.

This is something we saw early in the Detroit Lions meeting against the Dallas Cowboys that frustrated Matthew Stafford and halted his offense’s performance until a field goal late in the second quarter.

In last season’s meeting between these two defensively dominant squads the greatest difference was the absence of starting QBs Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers.

Stafford had of course been knocked out of the season after only three games and Rodgers suffered his second concussion of the season after being smashed into by Amari Spievey and Landon Johnson. Matt Flynn, Green Bay’s backup QB, came onto the field which resulted in an interception. But while on the field Rodgers was a victim of Detroit’s elite pass-rushing abilities.

There is no doubt that those defensive qualities have swelled into this season’s play. The Detroit Lions are fourth in the league in pass-rushing defense only allowing an average of about 188.0 yards per, the weakness being the allowance of RBs to get to the outside and pick up yards.

While Green Bay’s Starks may be an ideal competitor in situations where the running game is necessary, he may not be enough to expose the Lions’ lack of defense on the run.

Anyone can debate that some other franchise will be planted firmly on the sidelines in this contest. But the fact remains that these two teams sit on the top of the conference with undefeated records and elite players on either side of the ball.

Who else can say the same?