The Green Bay Packers (8-8) will host the Detroit Lions (8-8) in the regular season finale – both for each team and the NFL – on Sunday night at Lambeau Field. The final spot in the NFC playoff field won’t be known until the outcome is decided, and the Packers only need a win over the Lions to clinch the No. 7 seed.
It’s possible, if the Los Angeles Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks earlier on Sunday, that the showdown is a win-and-in game for both teams.
There is a potential advantage awaiting the Packers: If the Seahawks beat the Rams, the Lions will be officially eliminated from the playoff field. Then again, the Lions are coached by Dan Campbell and will be motivated to knock the Packers out of the postseason even if Detroit has nothing to play for on Sunday night.
Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday night’s regular season finale between the Packers and Lions:
Turnovers, major key
Takeaways and the turnover margin are important factors every single week, but each stat feels especially important in this matchup. The Packers have 12 takeaways in the last four games, including an NFL-high nine interceptions. The Lions have an NFL-low 15 turnovers all season, and Jared Goff has gone eight straight games without a pick. More importantly, the Lions are 7-1 when they don’t turn the ball over this season, and 1-7 with at least one turnover. More on this fascinating battle of a takeaway-crazed Packers defense vs. the Lions’ turnover-evasive offense here.
Rookie receiver spotlight
Back in Week 9, Christian Watson was recovering from a concussion, Romeo Doubs lasted all of one play before injury and Jameson Williams was on injured reserve. Fast forward two months, and all three rookie receivers could play a critical role in the regular season finale. Watson is the Packers’ big-play creator, while Doubs – since returning from an ankle injury suffered in Detroit – leads the team in yards per route run. Williams had a 41-yard touchdown catch on his first NFL touch and delivered a 40-yard run last week. Watson and Williams have game-breaking speed. Sunday night could become something resembling a track meet if all three rookies get going.
The Lions are giving up 5.3 yards per carry, while the Packers are giving up 5.0. Neither team is good against the run (Lions: 25th in run defense DVOA, Packers: 30th) and both offenses are built around playing physical up front and running the football. To be fair, both defenses have done a better job on a play-by-play basis over the last month or so, but both the Packers and Lions are capable of getting run over (see: Packers’ loss to Eagles, Lions’ loss to Panthers). The more productive running back duo – Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon vs. Jamaal Williams and DeAndre Swift – may determine the winner. Playing outdoors in Wisconsin during January, this is a game that will be won up front in the trenches.
Don’t look away on Sunday night if a defense gets a stop on third down. Both the Lions and Packers are aggressive on fourth down and won’t hesitate to take a risk in terms of extending a drive or going for a touchdown. The Lions are third in fourth-down attempts (35), while the Packers are sixth (29). This could be a win-and-in game. Will the pressure and consequence of the situation make the Lions or Packers less willing to take risks, or more? Dan Campbell and the Lions could get hyper-aggressive on fourth down if they have nothing to play for on Sunday.
One last hurrah?
Who knows what will happen with Aaron Rodgers and his football future this offseason. At this point, the 39-year-old is guaranteed one more home game at Lambeau Field, and you can bet – given the primetime kickoff and massive playoff implications – that Rodgers will be extra motivated to play his best football, especially after tossing three interceptions to this team back in Week 9. The Packers have won without the MVP’s best down the stretch; he’s thrown only four touchdown passes during the four-game winning streak. Will Rodgers author another signature moment at Lambeau Field? The Lions aren’t as dangerous on offense away from Ford Field, but it’s certainly possible the Packers will need to score a lot of points to win this game and clinch a playoff spot.
Prediction: Packers 30, Lions 27 (8-8)
There is certainly a temptation to take the Packers – who are suddenly red-hot – to win this game convincingly, but Dan Campbell’s Lions aren’t the “Same Ol’ Lions.” This is a tough, physical and well-coached Lions team that can run the ball, generate big plays and win the turnover battle. They will give the Packers all they can handle and maybe more, but who is betting against Aaron Rodgers in this moment and on this stage? The Packers have found a true winning formula, and the Lions are a much different team away from Ford Field. If the Packers generate turnovers against Jared Goff outdoors, this one could get out of hand. If not, a classic in this NFC North rivalry is possible.