In 2011, the Detroit Lions accomplished some fantastic things, including vaporizing some old, tired streaks. Gone is the road losing streak against the Minnesota Vikings and the equally nasty string of missing the playoffs. The Lions will try and open 2012 with a bang by breaking through at Lambeau Field, their own personal house of horrors for the last two decades.
As always, the Packers and their game day environment (frigid temperatures combined with a rowdy crowd) will conspire against the Lions, regardless of how many Green Bay stars see game action. With playoff representation a foregone conclusion for both teams, the final game of the year may struggle to captivate in the minds of some. Make no mistake about it, the Lions need the win for playoff seeding. Also, getting to 11 wins and entering the playoffs on a high note would be a major accomplishment for a young team.
What are some of the important things to monitor as the regular season winds down? Here's five important reasons to watch tomorrow's game:
What Starters Will Play, And For How Long? Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been quoted this week as saying he repped the team's back up quarterbacks in practice for potential game action. This means Aaron Rodgers' status as a starter is certainly in doubt, but McCarthy has not tipped his hand either way about if Rodgers will open the game. It certainly sounds like Rodgers could see game action, but likely not for all four quarters. If that is the case, get ready for Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell. Green Bay will certainly sit down Greg Jennings in addition to Randall Cobb, cutting back a few of their other offensive weapons. For the Lions, Calvin Johnson's Achilles problem has caused him to miss practice this week, but Johnson is still probable and expected to see significant action. Other Lions' and Packers' contributors are dinged up, such as Chris Houston (probable), Corey Williams (questionable), Louis Delmas (doubtful), Cliff Avril (probable), Charles Woodson (questionable) and Clay Matthews (questionable). What effect will the threat of further injury have on this game? Depending on what happens early either way, the second half could end up becoming the back up bowl. That could go a long way in determining the outcome of an important game for seeding.
How Efficient Can The Lions' Offense Operate Outdoors In December? When Jim Schwartz took over in 2009, he promised the Lions would have a team that could compete both indoors and out. He said he wanted his offense to be capable of scoring and pounding the ball regardless of the weather, and specifically mentioned venues like Lambeau Field late in the season. There will be no better test of his mantra than this week, as the Lions head to Green Bay with expected temperatures near 30 degrees, wind gusts of 24 miles per hour and snow showers set to greet them. Will Matthew Stafford be able to sling the ball to all his receivers in conditions like this? Can the Lions' offense score outdoors in the freezing cold? If the Lions end up having to take on the New York Giants in the playoffs, they could face a similar environment. This will be a good dry run to prepare the team for whatever might await them in playoff weeks ahead.
Good Kevin Smith Reappeared Last Week. Will He Stick Around? After coming back to the Lions, Smith has certainly done his part to jump start the running game which was depleted by injury The problem is, Smith fell victim to the injury bug himself during the middle of the season. Last week, with his two touchdowns, Smith was a force again and looked to be returning to the strength he ran with against Carolina. Can Smith sustain this type of effort through this week, stay healthy and give the Lions' running game a boost heading into the playoffs? The Lions may want to manage Smith's reps carefully on Sunday to ensure his wellbeing for the future. If it's one thing we have seen, a healthy Smith operating at full speed seems to make the Lions' offense churn.
Will The Lions' Defense Stay Turnover Hungry On The Road? Perhaps the most exciting thing about these new look Lions is their defensive aggression and ability to force turnovers. Teams like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Chicago have made a living late in the season by forcing turnovers and being nasty. Doing this at home with a loud crowd is easy enough, but can Detroit manage to keep it going on the road? The Lions will not want to let up in the last week of the season, and should strive to have their best defensive effort of the year against Green Bay to fine tune them for the playoffs.
Where Will The Lions End Up In The Playoffs? By the end of this game, we should have a pretty good idea where the Lions will be headed in the post season. Much will still be determined by other games. This much we know: A Lions win or tie against the Packers on Sunday will ensure the team will take on either the Giants or the Cowboys. If the Lions lose, they could still end up playing those teams, but that would depend on the Falcons also losing to Tampa Bay. With a loss to Green Bay, the Lions would play either the 49ers or Saints. Detroit would head to San Francisco if the Falcons won, the 49ers lost and the Saints won. The Lions would get another shot at Drew Brees and his Saints if the Falcons won and San Francisco beat St. Louis. Is your head spinning enough now? In layman's terms, the Lions will want to try and avoid playing the Saints and 49ers at all costs. The Giants and Cowboys, two teams limping to the finish line, seem like the much better first round matchups. That means a win at Green Bay is certainly important, if not paramount.
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