2011 NFL Season Week 17: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions Preview–Stomping Out The Regular Season
That’s the question surrounding Packers coach Mike McCarthy this week as he decides whether or not to play his starters in the meaningless regular season finale at home against the Detroit Lions.
Then again, maybe it isn’t a truly meaningless game for the Packers. They have the chance to finish 6-0 against the NFC North. They can force the Detroit Lions into the number six seed and make them open the playoffs in either New Orleans or San Francisco.
Still, it is highly unlikely the first stringers see action for a full sixty minutes. It’s a safe bet will see Matt Flynn replace Aaron Rodgers for the second half if not sooner. Injured players that normally would tough it out on game day likely will end up sitting as the Packers try to get healthy for the playoffs.
The Detroit Lions meanwhile are hoping to avoid being the NFC’s sixth seed. The difference between the fifth and sixth seed means avoiding a trip to New Orleans or San Francisco and instead heading to New York or Dallas depending on the outcome of that game.
Throw in the fact that the Lions haven’t won at Lambeau since 1991 and this game is anything but meaningless to Jim Schwartz and company.
Key Lions players
DT Ndamukong Suh I am not going to rehash what happened when the Packers and Lions played on Thanksgiving. All I can say is I hope the sequel to “Stomp!” does not make a special appearance at Lambeau this Sunday.
All eyes will be on Suh. Can he stay clean? Will the Packers try to antagonize him? What do his shoelaces look like? Suh’s meltdown triggered a self-destruction for Lions on Thanksgiving and their loss of composure made the game go from tight to a blowout in the Packers favor.
QB Matthew Stafford Congrats to Stafford for finally making it through an entire regular season.
The oft-injured quarterback stayed mostly healthy this year and has become the franchise quarterback the Lions hoped he would when he was drafted first overall in 2009. He spearheads an offense that, while it can’t keep up with the Packers, they can still rack up the yards and against a leaky Packers defense they could steal the game should McCarthy rest his starters.
WR Calvin Johnson He is the Jennings to Stafford’s Rodgers. He is one of the most talented wide receivers in the NFL and again with the Packers pass defense being a little shaky, he could have a huge game should the Packers reserves see a significant chunk of playing time.
“Megatron” stayed pretty quiet early in the Thanksgiving game against the Packers, but once Stafford started throwing his direction he was making things tough on the Packers.
Three Key Matchups
Suh vs. the Lambeau faithful Packers fans have very long memories. They ridiculed Suh after his stomp on Evan Dietrich-Smith on Thanksgiving and now with Suh coming to Green Bay, the fans are going to let him hear it up close and personal.
Will this mocking infuriate Suh into doing something stupid? Who knows, but with his legendary temper he could give McCarthy strong pause about playing his starters too long and risk losing Rodgers or someone else for the playoffs.
Packers defense vs. Lions offense Even if he rests his offensive starters, I think McCarthy needs to play his number one defense a little longer. The defense was beaten up early against the Bears last week, making Josh McCown look like a decent quarterback instead of a player who was coaching high school football only a few short weeks ago.
Momentum is key going into the playoffs. The Packers learned this themselves during their title run last year. Helping the defense get their mojo back against one of the better offenses in the NFL would go a long way towards ensuring the defense is ready to go in to weeks when the divisional playoffs start.
Matt Flynn vs. free agency This is likely Flynn’s last big chance at auditioning for a starting job next season. It’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion Flynn will leave after this season, but after some solid play and the continued development of Graham Harrell (not to mention Harrell’s elevation to the active roster), it is a strong possibility.
Bonus: What about Clifton? It seems like McCarthy is hell bent on seeing Chad Clifton perform this week. With the Packers banged up on the offensive line, it is critical that McCarthy knows whether or not he cen depend on Clifton in the playoffs.
Marshall Newhouse has done solid work in Clifton’s absence. Still, having a veteran along the line would be helpful as the Packers make another push for the Super Bowl.
Packers 24, Lions 20
McCarthy plays Rodgers and the first string offense the entire first half and Rodgers finishes the regular season with 47 touchdown passes. I was hoping to see the Packers come out barrels blazing just to see if Rodgers can put up five more to get to 50 on the year, but that’s highly unlikely.
The defense meanwhile stays on the field into the third quarter. Detroit makes a late push to make the score close but the Packers defense saves some face after a somewhat-ugly regular season and the Packers go into the postseason bye with momentum on both sides of the ball.
The Packers are three wins away from a second straight Super Bowl title. Time to focus, Packer Nation. In two weeks, the real games begin!——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke