<
>

Lions vs. Packers preview

When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay TV: Fox

Both teams clinched their playoff berths last week, but that doesn't mean the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions don’t have plenty at stake Sunday.

They’re both 11-4 and have their sights set on the NFC North title. The winner takes it, while the loser must begin its Super Bowl quest on the road in wild-card weekend.

ESPN Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky discuss the matchup:

Demovsky: The teams that have the most success against the Packers are the ones that can stop the run, get pressure on Rodgers with just a four-man rush and commit the rest of their players to coverage. The Lions seem to do that as well as anyone. Why?

Rothstein: The easy answer is Ndamukong Suh. Although he won't receive much consideration for the league's MVP award because it is a quarterback-driven league, Suh is perhaps more valuable than anyone else in the NFL to his unit's success this season. Opponents have told me often this season they have to scheme differently for the Lions because of the attention that must be paid to Suh. He essentially requires a double team on every play, and that allows Ezekiel Ansah, Jason Jones, George Johnson or C.J. Mosley to have a single-coverage matchup. Detroit blitzes about 25 percent of the time and records sacks on 6.6 percent of dropbacks. That's not a bad percentage at all. The pressure the front four provides gives Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis and the safeties relief from having to cover too long as well, which is usually a major issue for any defensive back. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been how efficient the Detroit run defense has been without Nick Fairley in the second half of the season. The Lions have yet to allow 1,000 yards rushing this season and since Fairley's injury, the Lions have allowed only 52.14 rushing yards a game. That's insane.

Green Bay tried to run it a ton the latest time the Packers faced the Lions. Since then, Detroit has posted the league's best run defense. What do you think ends up being Green Bay's offensive strategy this time?

Demovsky: Coach Mike McCarthy isn't going to bang his head against the wall and run, run, run if it's not working. If you think that means he's too quick to abandon the running game, then so be it. So it probably will depend on how Eddie Lacy fares early. If Lacy can rip off a few good runs in the first couple of series, like he has done of late, McCarthy might be more inclined to go back to it later. But here's one thing to look for: If Aaron Rodgers ends up throwing a bunch of dump-off passes or screens, it's probably a sign they don't think they can run the ball, so they'll use the short passing game to simulate the run. There's no shame in admitting you can't run the ball against the Lions. Who has this season?

What do you make of all these late-game, come-from-behind victories? Are they living dangerously, or are they just a good team that finds a way to win no matter what?

Rothstein: That stems from Jim Caldwell. His eternal calmness on the sideline has been extremely beneficial for Detroit in a ton of ways this season. Multiple players have said throughout the season that the reason for their ability to score and make plays late in games comes directly from Caldwell's calmness. They never panic because he never panics. Part of this has to do with Matthew Stafford, too. He's always been pretty good at putting together late-game drives, but he's been particularly good at it this season. He has thrived in those situations this season, and it is a position he not only feels comfortable in but also wants to be in. It allows him to use his intelligence, along with playing with a little bit of reckless abandon that has made him a playmaker in the past. It really starts with the two of them, but there is little doubt they are living a bit dangerously because starting this week and entering the playoffs, every team is going to be good, and most will have a quarterback who can do similar things. If they don't find a way to play better early in games, Detroit will have a short playoff stay.

We all know about Green Bay's win streak over Detroit in Wisconsin, but what makes it so tough for the Lions -- and many other teams -- to win in Green Bay?

Demovsky: It's not the noise; it's not even that loud, to be honest. If it were, why else would the Packers have launched their "Get Loud Lambeau" campaign this week to try to increase the noise level for Sunday's game? Rather, it's how the offense functions at home, where crowd noise isn't a factor for them. It's not a coincidence that before Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay, Nelson’s 11 longest catches of the season all came at home. Don't discount the footing, either. They're familiar with the turf and what shoes to wear. We've seen a number of different opponents come in and slip all over the field.

Since you brought up the streak in Wisconsin, how are Jim Caldwell and the new regime approaching it from a mentality standpoint? Are they ignoring it, downplaying it or accepting that it's a real thing?

Rothstein: They aren't worrying about it. This staff has a pretty good understanding of the difficulty of winning in Wisconsin too. Jim Caldwell is a Wisconsin native -- from Beloit -- and the offensive coordinator is Vince Lombardi's grandson. Some players will likely acknowledge the streak during the week -- they always do -- but one of the big messages this season has been that this team is different than all the prior ones, and they have to understand and believe that. So far, Detroit has, as only two other Lions teams in franchise history have won 11 games. I don't expect Detroit to win this game, but the history in Lambeau Field won't be the reason for that.

Rodgers appears to be playing at his typical, high level with the best QBR in the league. Where does this season rank for him in terms of his career?

Demovsky: It has to rank right up there with his MVP season of 2011. The difference that season is the Packers would pile up yards and rack up the points, while so many of those games became shootouts. This year, the points and yards are down. That 2011 team was loaded with offensive weapons -- Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Donald Driver and even a young Randall Cobb. This season, Rodgers might be better because he's getting more out of less. Really, his only consistent weapons have been Cobb and Nelson. Plus, McCarthy has put so much more on Rodgers' plate now -- running the no-huddle almost exclusively -- that his job is even more difficult than it was in 2011. Either way, perhaps the best part of both 2011 and this season is Rodgers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio. It was 45-to-6 in 2011 and 36-to-5 this season.