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The Green Bay Packers (13-3) will finish the 2021 regular season with a trip to Ford Field to play the Detroit Lions (2-13-1) on Sunday. After winning last Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings, Matt LaFleur’s team now has the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye locked up entering the season’s final week.
Can the Packers get to 14-3 with a win over the Lions in the finale?
Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday in Detroit.
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Matt LaFleur has insisted all week that he plans to play his key players and starters. But it’s certainly worth wondering if this is the right plan. Sure, LaFleur and the Packers don’t want rust to be a big deal when the playoffs start, but will playing Sunday in Detroit really have any effect on the team’s performance in the divisional round? Having everyone available is the far more important variable. Ford Field has an artificial surface, which is generally more dangerous, especially on tired bodies that just played a full season. Sunday should be a stress-free environment for the Packers, but it won’t be. LaFleur, who sat every player of consequence during the preseason, is taking a gamble. Hopefully, the key players can get through a couple of quarters without someone important going down and directly affecting the Super Bowl run.
Another shot at Love?
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Jordan Love has already played at least 12 snaps in a game three times this season, including one start, and he’ll almost certainly get an extended run on Sunday against the Lions. This is yet another opportunity for the young quarterback to get valuable on-field experience. There have been flashes of his talent in games this season, but it’d be hard to say the Packers have seen anything suggesting he’s a sure-fire starting-caliber quarterback in the future. Love isn’t going to make or break his career with the Packers on Sunday, but ending his second season on a high note is important. He could (and should) play a half or more against the Lions.
Will Bakhtiari return?
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
The Packers have a big decision to make on their All-Pro left tackle. Will Bakhtiari make his season debut on Sunday, or will the wait continue? And if he doesn’t play, will the Packers be comfortable playing him in the postseason? Yosh Nijman has already started eight games at left tackle and would start a ninth if Bakhtiari isn’t ready to go Sunday. Would the Packers feel better about Nijman after all of his snaps played this season, or Bakhtiari coming off a significant injury and over a year away? Getting No. 69 on the field for some snaps on Sunday would help make the decision easier, but the Packers will always protect the player, and Bakhtiari won’t be out there unless he’s ready.
(AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
With key players expecting to play, a few important milestones will be worth watching Sunday. Davante Adams needs 22 yards to break Jordy Nelson’s team record for receiving yards in a season. Preston Smith needs one sack to cash in on another $750,000 incentive (and three more to hit another $1.2 million). Aaron Rodgers has incentives tied into where he finishes among qualified quarterbacks in several important statistical categories, including completion percentage and touchdown passes. Several pending free agents for the Packers – like De’Vondre Campbell and Marquez Valdes-Scantling – could help up their value by padding on more of the important volume stats to their 2021 totals.
Special teams finish strong?
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
The Packers special teams have been…trending in the right direction? The whole operation has looked dicey for most of the season, but Maurice Drayton’s crew has played well the last two games. Finishing the season strong and continuing to build into the postseason has to be a priority, especially indoors where the elements won’t affect kicking or punting. It would be nice to see punter Corey Bojorquez rebound after struggling in the cold at Lambeau Field last Sunday night. Field position could be an important factor if Love and the second-team offense is on the field for a big chunk of the game.
Prediction: Packers 24, Lions 13 (10-6)
It’s unclear how long Matt LaFleur will play his best players, but having Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and all the rest to start Sunday will give the Packers an obvious advantage over the two-win Lions. Dan Campbell’s team has been feisty down the stretch, and games between the Packers and Lions at Ford Field usually find a way to be competitive. I still think the Packers eventually take control and coast to a win, assuming Rodgers plays at least two quarters. If he’s only out there for a few series, this game turns into a toss-up. I think LaFleur will have his guys ready to play, and play at a high level against a divisional opponent.