MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Everyone has something to play for

Posted Dec 29, 2017

Whatever the reasons, there are players who have something at stake regardless of the team’s circumstances and position in the standings.

It isn’t the setting the Detroit Lions hoped for as they close out a 2017 season that did not live up to their hopes and expectations.

With both teams out of the playoffs, the Lions and Green Bay Packers are reaching for shreds of motivation to take into Sunday’s game at Ford Field.

Whatever the reasons – personal pride, or love of competition among them – there are players who have something at stake regardless of the team’s circumstances and position in the standings. 

“Right now, believe it or not, we’re all playing for something,” said wide receiver Golden Tate, who’s as disappointed as anyone that the Lions’ 8-7 won-loss record already has made them postseason spectators.

“Some guys are playing for their jobs -- a spot on the team next year. Maybe they move up the depth chart. There’s something at stake here. Let’s not lose track of that.

“We want to go out there and get a win. We want to be 5-1 in the division, and beat the Packers twice, which has been rarely done (not since 1991).”

They sound like hollow goals, far short of what inspires a team and its fan base. And they’re not unlike comments coming from the Packers, whose 7-8 record has them out of the playoffs after eight straight seasons in the postseason.

Quarterback Brett Hundley talked this week about his desire for the Packers to avoid a losing record by finishing the season with an 8-8 record. The only way to do that is to beat the Lions. That shouldn’t happen, but a lot of things have happened to the Lions this season that shouldn’t have.

Breakdown/prediction: The air of uncertainty for the future surrounding the Lions cannot be ignored. It’s potential impact on the team’s performance can’t be predicted, either.

From the perspective of looking back on this season, the only thing that’s been predictable about the Lions is that they’ve made it hard on themselves. That’s been the standard since their second offensive play of their opening-day win over the Cardinals. An interception returned for a touchdown put them in a 7-0 hole.

They’ve been climbing out ever since, and the same can happen against a Packers team the Lions are solid favorites to beat.

Pick: Lions 21, Packers 20.

Don’t bet on it.

Sweep history: A win by the Lions will give them a sweep of this season’s two games. The Lions beat the Packers, 30-17, at Lambeau Field in Week 9. The last time the Lions swept the Packers was 1991: 23-14 at the Pontiac Silverdome, and 21-17 at Lambeau in Game 9 on Monday Night TV.

Lions focus --last impressions: For a number of young players and mid-level veterans, Week 17 is the last chance to make a positive impression that can either enhance their position with the Lions or catch the eye of other teams who sign players in the offseason.

For young players, here are two groups and three individuals to watch Sunday who could make a closing statement:

O-line, Class of 2016: Left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Joe Dahl and center Graham Glasgow started and played every snap the last two games. There were drafted together in 2016 and could be starters of the present and future.

D, Class of 2017: First-round pick Jarrad Davis is steadily smoothing out some rough edges at middle linebacker, particularly in pass coverage. Three rookies drafted after him have shown progress in substantial rotation roles – cornerback Teez Tabor, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter.

Tion Green: The rookie running back made the roster as an undrafted free agent and has had big production in limited opportunities in the last four games. One more solid performance should cement his status for next year.

Michael Roberts: It’s been a development season for the fourth-round pick from Toledo. He’s been primarily a blocker. He has only four catches, but that role should expand.

Jamal Agnew: He can show one more time that the Lions got more than they bargained for with this fifth-round pick. He’s a star on punt returns, and a contributor at cornerback and on offense.

Packers focus: -- QB replay: It didn’t show up on the scoreboard or in his statistics, but Hundley’s comfort level was higher when he faced the Minnesota Vikings last week than it was the first time the Packers played them in Week 6.

Hundley is looking for a similar experience playing the Lions for a second time. 

Hundley’s second pro start and third game with extended action in his three-year career was in the 30-17 home loss to the Lions in Week 9. It was one of his better performances: 245 yards passing, a 68.4-percent completion rate with no TDs or interceptions. He also ran four times for 22 yards and a TD.

Hundley’s first extended playing time was the first game against the Vikings. He went in early when Aaron Rodgers went out with a broken right collarbone. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions in a 23-10 road loss.

Hundley had similar stats in last week’s 16-0 loss at home: 17 of 40 for 130 yards, no TDs and two interceptions.

Despite the score and his personal stats, Hundley told reporters in Green Bay this week that he felt more prepared in the rematch.

“It felt a lot more comfortable for me,” he said. “You sort of understand what’s coming. The looks are a lot easier. You know what they’re playing. It’s a lot crisper.

“This week, same thing – another division opponent. I’ve seen these guys two years not playing. I’ve seen them once this year, playing.”