This week, with very little to play for in the standings, the Detroit Lions head to University of Phoenix Stadium to take place in the 4-9 bowl against the Arizona Cardinals. There's not many compelling story lines to follow leading into this match up pitting two underachievers, so fans as well as players might be fighting some pretty severe levels of disinterest. Still, with some midweek bluster, Patrick Peterson ensured that everyone would be watching him take on Calvin Johnson in perhaps the best one on one match up of the game.
At the end of Sunday night, someone will have broken their long losing streak in 2012 and be feeling a tiny bit better at 5-9. On the other hand, another team will be reeling even more. Who will it be? What variables will determine that? Here's an inside look at five things to monitor.
1. Who Wants It More? This game, casually referred to as the 4-9 bowl above, has little on the line other than pride or personal bragging rights for each side. Both teams have lengthy losing streaks, with the Cardinals losing nine games in a row and the Lions losers of five. It's gotten ugly for both. Knowing this, motivation and excitement would seem to be the biggest issues on Sunday afternoon. Which team will care about this game more? Winning in the NFL is just as much about mindset as it is about talent. This game, more than most, will be about that fact. Whichever team has already quit on 2012 will show it in this contest with a lazy effort.
2. Can Arizona's Defense Outplay Detroit's? Cardinal fans will say that save for the performance against Seattle, the Arizona defense has actually been quite solid all season. That's partially true, given the most that the Cardinals had given up before 58 points was 31. This will be a battle of what defense is able to survive and find the motivation to rise up. If the Cardinals can hold their own against the Lions offense and prevent them from racking up yardage, they'll have a chance to keep the score manageable enough to win. They'll have to prevent the Lions from establishing the run. If Detroit can, they'll likely be able to throw the ball at will.
3.Patrick Peterson Against Calvin Johnson. All week long, Peterson has been talking smack about Johnson and plotting to shut him down, hyping up the contest. He called him the "second best wide receiver" in football. He even said he's been waiting to face Johnson for a while. That's all just noise. Sunday, we'll see how much game Peterson has in a big match up, as he'll be tested against the game's best wide receiver. Quite frankly, Peterson's got his hands full. Johnson hasn't had a game lower than 100 yards since an October meeting against Seattle, and is hitting his stride at the right time of the year to chase down the receiving yardage record for a season. Defend that, young man.
4. Lions' Defensive Line. The Cardinals have problems protecting the quarterback, whomever it is, giving up 50 sacks, which is last in the NFC. This week, the Cardinals are scheduled to have Ryan Lindley under center. Will the Arizona offensive line give Lindley time to throw the football against the Lions' tough defensive front? Missing will be Nick Fairley, but the Lions will still possess plenty of firepower up front and on the edge. If Lindley doesn't have time, it will be another terrible afternoon for Arizona's offense and Lindley himself might be feeling sore by the end of the day.
5. Detroit's Start. Leading 14-3, Detroit had the certain advantage early against Green Bay, executing their offense proficiently while playing opportunistic defense. Then, one critical mistake in the first half completely turned the tide, and the team was never the same after. This week, the Lions must avoid that in their start and dominate a team which has lost nine in a row start to finish. We saw what the Lions did against the Jaguars on the road earlier this fall, and this game has the elements to be a carbon copy. It's up to the Lions, however, to get off to a good enough start in the game and sustain it in order to make that happen again.
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