The Green Bay Packers head into their Thanksgiving Day matchup against the Detroit Lions looking to remain perfect and advance to 11-0. Standing in their way, the 7-3 Lions look to upset the Packers in their most anticipated game of the season.
Since both teams started out on fire, everybody associated with the NFL has circled this game on their calendar. Many think this is one of the few remaining roadblocks standing in the way of the Packers finishing the season 16-0.
With a win, the Packers would take another big step in locking up the NFC North division title. An upset for the Lions would be huge for their chances in the wild-card race.
If the Packers hope to leave Detroit undefeated, they must protect Aaron Rodgers.
Before giving Rodgers a concussion, the Lions defensive line ate up the Packers' line and caused constant pressure. Ndamukong Suh and Co. will look to rattle Rodgers early and often in hopes of throwing him off his game.
From the start, the battle in the trenches should dictate the game and amount of success the Packers offense has. If the Packers offensive line can keep Rodgers upright and healthy, Rodgers should have plenty of time to find any one of his plethora of weapons.
One way to limit the success of the Lions defensive line is for the Packers to establish the run early and find success doing so. With uncertainty surrounding whether or not James Starks will be available after suffering a scary knee injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rushing duties will mostly belong to Ryan Grant with assistance from Brandon Saine, who was recently promoted from the practice squad.
While Starks has seen the majority of the carries for Green Bay, Grant has looked fairly good on the touches he has gotten. If Starks is unavailable, it would provide the first look at rookie Brandon Saine. Starting the year on the practice squad, Saine was promoted to the 53-man roster after Alex Green suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Lions have been vulnerable against the run giving up 134.7 yards per game ranking them 27th in the league at stopping the run. Grant should have a big opportunity on Thursday.
Realistically, there's no way to stop the beast that's Calvin Johnson. The Packers do whatever they can to limit his touches and keep him out of the end zone.
Tramon Williams will most likely be matched up against Johnson on the majority of snaps. After suffering an early-season shoulder injury, Williams has slowly been returning to form with four interceptions in his last three games. He will need to be on his game Thursday in order to slow down Johnson.
The Packers will need to get pressure on Matthew Stafford early and often in order to help out their secondary. Forcing Stafford to get rid of the ball quickly will prevent Johnson from getting behind the Packers defense. With the re-addition of Mike Neal, the Packers have an opportunity that they must exploit.
With the biggest football game in Detroit in what seems like forever, the fans will surely be into this one. Instead of struggling to sell tickets, the Lions are selling out games, and their fans are louder than ever turning Ford Field into quite the noisy venue.
The Packers will need to be efficient early on in order to eliminate the crowd. With a couple quick strikes, the Packers could do wonders to remove the crowd and turn a hostile environment into a very manageable one.
The Packers need to show their experience playing in a big game on the road like they did so well in the postseason against a team that's inexperienced playing in such an enormous game.
Often times this season, the Packers have allowed opponents to stick around late in games. This has not come back to bite the Packers yet, but is something they must avoid at all costs against the quick-strike capable Lions offense. They must be efficient early and put this game away when possible.
Playing with a fractured finger over the last two weeks, Matthew Stafford has struggled to take care of the football. In Chicago in Week 10, it seemed like the was completing more passes to the Bears defenders than the Lions receivers. Last week against the Panthers, Stafford came out of the gate struggling once again before turning it around for a five-touchdown performance.
On Thursday, the Packers need to force Stafford into turning the ball over and taking advantage of possible interceptions. With two potent offenses on display, this game could come down to which team takes better care of the football.