Green Bay Packers Thanksgiving Preview vs. Detroit Lions
As a fan of the Green Bay Packers, I have a lot to be thankful for.
We are the defending Super Bowl champions. We are 10-0, giving us a 16-game winning streak.
We have the best quarterback in the league, and Skip Bayless continues to provide him the motivation to be better even while the entire rest of the country acknowledges the Packers made the right move not taking Brett Favre back.
And because I live on the Left Coast, I get to wake up, roll over and grab the remote control just in time to turn on a marquee matchup for my marquee team. Could this be the week the Packers lose?
For one, the Lions hold most of the intangible advantages—home field, 30 more hours than Green Bay has between the first of their three games and this one and out-scoring the Packers in last year's head-to-head.
Green Bay has the target on its back, and other teams will always want to beat the Packers more than the Packers need to win.
The Packers are penalized considerably less than the Lions and do have the better coaching staff, but it does not offset all of the above.
So how do the players match up?
Packers Passing Attack vs. Lions Pass Defense: Slight Advantage, Packers
Aaron Rodgers is not just the best quarterback in the league, he has the best receiving corps in football to throw to.
The Packers go five-deep at wide receiver, have an elite tight end and three capable backs to rely on in the passing game. They lead the league in yards after the catch and fewest drops.
Thus, while Green Bay has the third-best passing game in terms of yards per game, it has the best by any real measure—points, passer rating, completion percentage and yards per attempt. But Detroit is as capable of stopping this attack as any team the Packers will face.
They are fifth in yards allowed per game, even though because of their winning record they often face a high volume of passes. They are fourth in opponent passer rating, tied for second in interceptions and tied for seventh in sacks.
The one thing Rodgers does not have at his disposal is a good offensive line. That pressure will likely make this his first game of the season with under a 110 passer rating.
Packers Rushing Attack vs. Lions Run Defense: Slight Advantage, Lions
The Lions have the best defensive line in the business—period. B.J. Raji would have a hard time making it into the starting lineup for the Lions.
The Packers get some yards in the running game when the opposition is focused on the pass. But even against poor run defenses like St. Louis and Tampa Bay, Packers backs have struggled.
Making matters worse, battering-ram back James Starks is hurt. Ryan Grant is a passable starting back, but he needs holes to be productive, because his game is speed.
If this line cannot make holes against poor defensive lines, you would think they would struggle against this one, right? Wrong.
Detroit is inexplicably one of the worst run defenses in the league. Only five teams give up more yards per game and only two more yards per carry.
They should have the advantage based on personnel, but results indicate otherwise.
Lions Passing Attack vs. Packers Pass Defense: Slight Advantage, Lions
To the casual fan, this appears to be a tremendous advantage for the Lions. They have the eighth-ranked pass offense and Green Bay is ranked 31st against the pass.
But anyone who thinks yards per game is the best way to rank a team, raise your hand. Anyone with their hand up, you are restricted to getting your sports from Skip Bayless—I do not need traffic that badly.
The Packers lead the league in interceptions by a margin of four over the next (five) best teams. That is why only 10 teams rank higher in opponent passer rating.
Matthew Stafford throws a pick a game on average, so you can expect to see one or two Thanksgiving Day.
But the Packers are also a mediocre 15th in sacks, and the Lions give up only two per game. That should give Stafford enough time to find Megatron for about 100 yards and a score, and spread the ball around enough elsewhere to keep Rodgers off the field.
Lions Rushing Attack vs. Packers Run Defense: Advantage, Packers
The Packers are not the only team with an injured top back.
Jahvid Best was the Lions' only real running threat when he went down with a concussion. Now they are left with Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith, whom they brought back from the scrap heap.
That is why their rank of 22nd in yards per game and 14th in yards per carry are higher than their current talent.
Green Bay is 12th in yards allowed, but only three teams have been run on less often. This makes the Packers the sixth-worst team in yards per carry despite ending September giving up the fewest total yards at just 3.1 per carry.
Both teams are trending down, but Green Bay should have a slim edge here.
Special Teams: Advantage, Packers
The kicking game is about as even as it could be.
Both Mason Crosby and Jason Hanson have missed only one field goal. Hanson's was beyond 50 yards and Crosby's was just from just 29 yards out. But Crosby's accuracy is hurt by kicking outdoors, and he has hit two field goals over 55 yards.
Green Bay might have a slight edge in punting, with an average a few yards per punt higher. But Detroit has done better in ratio of touchbacks to downing the ball inside the 20.
The Packers average two more yards per kick return than allowed but 2.5 yards fewer on punts. Detroit is considerably worse in both statistics, giving the Packers an edge in special teams.
Prediction: Lions 31, Packers 28
In this era, it is nigh impossible to go undefeated. In fact, only one team has ever done it since the league instituted a championship playoff game.
The Packers are not quite healthy and are playing a team that matches up about as well as anyone could hope with the defending champions.
The good news for Packers fans is Green Bay is 7-2 over the past 30 regular and post-season games when I pick the opposition.
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