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Game of the Week: Packers at Lions
This Thanksgiving, there is much to give credence: the NFL avoiding a NBA-like strike; LeBron James failing in the NBA Finals; the epic collapse of the Boston Red Sox; Justin Bieber's new Christmas album.
Yet perhaps the greatest thanks of all goes the return of relevancy to the annual Detroit Thanksgiving Day game. For nearly 15 years, the pigskin played on Pilgrim Day has been subjected to the monstrosity known as Lions football, featuring mistakes and mediocrity in the Motor City.
Or, as this game is more widely recognized as, "The game before the Cowboys come on."
This season, another tale has emerged. The Lions, ignited by a newfound faith in the passing attack and aided by an opportunistic defense, find themselves at 7-3 and in the hunt for their first postseason berth of the millennium.
Instead of being treated to incomplete passes, fans will get a glimpse of the dynamic duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. In place of opposing offenses running amok, Ndamukong Suh will be unleashing unholy havoc.
But it takes two to tango, and Detroit has itself quite the salsa dancer. The Green Bay Packers enter their Week 12 matchup a sparkling 10-0, making a mockery out of those who've dared to stand in their path. This clash of NFC North rivals serves as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
A former No. 1 overall pick in 2009, Stafford's success was far from certain, as the Georgia product played in just 13 games in his first two seasons in the league. A solid preseason gave pigskin pundits a peep at the forthcoming prominence, but the NFL was officially put on notice with the Detroit signal-caller's seven touchdowns in the Lions' first two games.
With an absolute cannon and respectable accuracy, the Motown franchise may have finally found a field general to build their foundation upon.
Of course, helping Stafford's cause has been the unrelenting performance of Johnson, who leads the league with 11 touchdowns. Utilizing his 6'5" frame and breakaway speed, "Megatron" has hauled in 59 receptions for 974 yards. Brandon Pettigrew, Titus Young and Nate Burleson have assisted in the aerial attack, but as Stafford and Johnson go, so goes Detroit.
Not to say the Lions are a one-trick pony. The Detroit defense is holding adversarial quarterbacks to a conference-low 69.0 QB rating, and their 15 interceptions are good enough for second-best in the NFL. While an improved secondary has certainly encouraged this endeavor, a tenacious front line led by Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch has pressured opposing arms into questionable decisions.
It's this deftness on both sides of the ball that has catapulted Detroit into the running for a Wild Card berth.
The Packers can second this sentiment. Despite their vulnerability against the pass (conference-high 289.3 yards per game), the Packers lead the NFL with 19 interceptions and are conceding a meager 21.2 points an outing.
Any worries that the Cheeseheads may harbor toward their team's secondary should be taken with a grain of salt, as most of the yards given up by Green Bay are a byproduct of being ahead early and often, and as such, opponents are left to strike from the air.
But the true catalyst during the Packers' undefeated run has been Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Averaging a league-high 35.5 points per game, Green Bay's passing attack is second to none. Still riding high from last season's Super Bowl (and the vindication that derived from the achievement), Rodgers is performing at a level reminiscent of Tom Brady's 2007 campaign. Entering Week 12, Rodgers is tops in yards per attempt, completion percentage, QB rating and touchdowns.
Jordy Nelson has emerged as one of the better wideouts in the league and Greg Jennings continues to be a reliable deep threat, but without Rodgers, the Packers are nothing more than a pedestrian squad.
So who wins this Turkey Bowl tilt? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Packers come out on top 68.5 percent of the time by an average margin of 26-20. For the rest of this week's predictions, check below: