Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (+3, 49.5 o/u)
There is no question that Week 17 in the NFL is full of virtually meaningless games, but when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (9-6 SU, 7-7-1 ATS) visit the Detroit Lions (9-6 SU, 8-7 ATS) at Ford Field on Sunday Night Football (8:30 PM ET), the NFC North crown will be on the line.
After the Packers got hammered by Washington 42-24 on national television in Week 11 to drop to 4-6, most pundits were ready to write them off. But Green Bay has now won five straight and find themselves in a “win and you’re in” situation this Sunday. The turnaround can be largely credited to Aaron Rodgers regaining his elite status. In his last six games, the Packers’ field general is completing 69.8-percent of his passes for 1,718 yards and 14 touchdowns (118.8 passer rating).
The recent surge has catapulted the Packer offense to sixth in scoring and tenth in yards.
Rodgers isn’t doing it all on his own. The emergence of Ty Montgomery out of the backfield has led to the Packers averaging 117 yards per game on the ground over their last four games. The entire offense should be credited for its ball security as well; during the five-game winning streak, the Packers have only turned the ball over once.
While everything is coming together for the Green Bay offense, their defense has completely fallen apart. Entering Week 6, Dom Capers’ unit ranked first against the run, but has now allowed an average of 119 rushing yards per game over their last seven. In spite of the recent struggles, the Packers still rank ninth against the run, which is a lot more than can be said about their pass defense. Green Bay’s secondary has been torched all season, ranking 29th against the pass, and has given up more than 350 net yards through the air in the last two games.
The defense’s saving grace on during the win streak has been its 14 takeaways. However, they have still bled yards on the ground (22nd-ranked total defense) and given up more points than they’d like (20th-ranked scoring defense).
This week it will be Matthew Stafford looking to exploit the Packers’ defensive shortcomings. But this season’s comeback-king will have to overcome a dislocated middle finger on his throwing hand first. Through his first 12 games, Stafford was completing 67.21-percent of his passes, and had thrown 21 touchdowns to only five interceptions (100.5 passer rating). Then he injured his finger in Week 14. Since then, he is only completing 59.17-percent of his passes, and only has one touchdown to four interceptions (66.5 passer rating).
The Lions have lost their last two games with Stafford being slowed by injury. Yes, they played two tough opponents (Cowboys and Giants), but a lot of blame goes to the lack of a running game, which has been unable to take any of the onus out of Stafford’s injured hands. Detroit ranks 30th in rushing and only averages 3.8 yards per carry (26th).
Detroit’s offense has received a lot of credit for its late-game heroics, but it has been the defense that has provided them with the opportunities. The Lions rank 15th in total defense and 13th in scoring. Although they aren’t particularly stout against the pass or run, they aren’t weak in either area, either – 16th against the pass and 17th against the run. Their biggest issue this season has been their non-existent pass-rush. Kerry Hyder has recorded eight sacks, but the team only has 25 combined (third-fewest). If the Lions aren’t able to get after Aaron Rodgers, their defensive backs will pay the price.
The trends favor the Packers in this one. Green Bay has won seven of its last ten in Detroit. Making matters worse for the Lions, they have been dominated by Aaron Rodgers. In 15 career starts against Detroit, Rodgers is 12-3 with a 108.0 passer rating. The Lions are also allowing an opposing passer rating of 105.0 this season (worst), which spikes to 121.2 over their last three.
Rodgers is going to have all day to throw and will put up points at will. If Stafford was fully healthy, I’d expect a much closer game, but that’s not the case.
Pick: Packers (-3)
Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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