The Green Bay Packers (8-8) can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Detroit Lions (8-8) on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. The primetime showdown between NFC North rivals will end up being a win-and-in game for both teams if the Rams beat the Seahawks earlier on Sunday.
Can the Packers finish off the run, win a fifth-straight game and clinch the No. 7 seed in the NFC? Or will Dan Campbell’s team spoil the party at Lambeau Field?
Here are five keys to the Packers beating the Lions on Sunday night:
Be the better running team
Expect the Lions to commit to the run game and force the Packers – who beat mostly pass-first teams during the four-game win streak – to prove up to the task at the line of scrimmage. The Lions are tough and physical up front and will almost certainly attempt to control the contest with the run. The Packers don’t necessarily need to finish the game with more rushing yards, but being the more efficient run team overall is critical. The Lions defense is giving up 5.3 yards per rush and can get bullied in the front seven. The team that runs the ball efficiently on offense and does a better job containing the run on defense will create a huge advantage during a night game at Lambeau Field. The Packers can’t let the Lions – a dome team playing outdoors – to be that team.
Win the turnover battle
The Lions (15 total turnovers) protect the football better than any team in football. The Packers (12 takeaways over last 4 games) are taking it away better than any team in football over the last month or so. Something has to give here on Sunday night. Can the Packers consistently put Jared Goff – who hasn’t thrown an interception in eight games – into tough spots? That will likely require stopping the run on early downs and forcing Goff to throw the ball against coverage on third-and-long. Consider this: the Lions are 7-1 without a turnover this season, but 1-7 with at least one turnover. If they win the turnover battle, the Packers will feel very good about winning the game. Back in Week 9, three interceptions thrown by Aaron Rodgers – including two in the end zone – doomed Green Bay.
Win the situational battle
The Lions are aggressive on fourth down and terrific in the red zone. Dan Campbell’s team has 35 fourth-down attempts this season, highlighting his willingness to take a risk in terms of extending a drive or scoring more points. The Lions offense is also fourth in red-zone touchdown percentage this season, so the aggressiveness often pays off. On defense, the Lions are 30th in third-down percentage and 27th in red-zone touchdown percentage, so the Packers will also have opportunities to extend drives and score seven inside the 20. How important is the situational battle? In the first meeting, the Packers were 1-for-4 on fourth down and 0-for-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
Win the special teams battle
Over the last two months, the Packers and Lions have both been among the NFL’s best on special teams. And each team has a dangerous returner: Keisean Nixon is the NFL’s most productive kickoff returner, while Kalif Raymond has one of the league’s only punt return touchdowns this season. Lions kicker Michael Badgley has made 18 of 21 kicks in 2022, and Jack Fox is averaging almost 49 yards per punt and launching touchbacks on almost 77 percent of kickoffs. Over the last two January games at Lambeau Field (loss to 49ers in the playoffs, win over the Vikings), the Packers found out – in vivid detail – just how important special teams can be this time of year. Good plays can change games; bad plays can lose games.
Be the more explosive team
The Lions only scored 15 points in the first meeting, but don’t underestimate the explosive ability of Detroit’s offense entering the finale. Over the last eight games, the Lions have scored 30 or more points six times. Running back D’Andre Swift averages 5.6 yards per carry and has eight runs over 15 yards, Amon-Ra St. Brown is a YAC monster who has 13 catches of at least 20 yards and both DJ Chark and Jameson Williams are speedsters who can win downfield. This team has weapons, but the Packers have also done a much better job of limiting big plays lately. Can Joe Barry’s defense force the Lions to march down the field methodically in order to score? On offense, don’t be surprised if Aaron Rodgers and the passing game hit a few big plays off run action on Sunday night. If the offensive line plays well, the Packers passing game will be productive.