OPPONENT BREAKDOWN: Lions need to get back on track against the Pack

Posted Nov 26, 2013

If the Lions want to remain in contention, they will have to win on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since the 2003 season

Don‘t stop me, even though you've heard it before.

The Lions are facing a must-win game – another must in game – like they did last week and the week before that.

Every game qualifies as "must win" for a Lions team grasping for its first division title in 20 years, and Thursday's traditional Thanksgiving Day game against the Green Bay Packers has become as crucial as any the Lions have played this season.

The Lions remain tied with the Bears for first place in the NFC North in spite of themselves. Both are 6-5, with the Packers hovering in third place at 5-5-1.

The Lions' margin of error has been reduced by losses to the Steelers and Bucs the last two weeks.

The Lions are facing a Packers team that has been severely diminished by a broken left collarbone quarterback Aaron Rodgers sustained in Game 8. The Packers have three losses and a tie since Rodgers went out, and he is likely to miss Thursday's game.

Matt Flynn has taken the practice reps and is in line to make his first start since the last game of 2011, when he threw six TD passes to beat a Lions team headed for the playoffs as a wild card.

There is no reason to downplay what's at stake for the Lions, or the consequences for losing. Every cliché in the book fits their situation – with "must win" at the top. The fact that the Packers are a division opponent and already have beaten the Lions once adds to their urgency to win.

"It's a game that we need to get back to winning," Coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's a team that's right there in contention. We need to play our best and we need to come out with a win.

"We have lost two in a row and we need to right that. There's no better opportunity than Thanksgiving Day at Ford Field."

It's obvious that the Packers are not as good without Rodgers. The record in the last four games shows that.

But these Packers have had double-digit wins and playoff appearances the last four years. They're used to playing big games and winning. The Lions are the opposite, and it showed in their play the last two games. Breakdowns across the board led to losses.

The setting is right for the Lions to rebound. So is the timing. Rodgers' injury has the Lions favored by almost a touchdown.

The Lions are talented enough and equipped enough to win games – even "must-win" games like Thursday's. But until they do that, teams like the Packers, even with a serious injury, rate an edge in a big game.

My prediction for Thursday: Packers 17, Lions 14.

Packers breakdown:

QB carousel: It is spinning at Mach IX compared to what the Packers experienced for 22 seasons with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers combining to start every game except two from 1992 through Game 8 of this year.

Here's how the chain of starters has gone from Rodgers to Flynn:

Game 8 vs. Chicago: Rodgers went out with a broken left collarbone in the first quarter, forcing career backup Seneca Wallace to take over. Wallace finished out the Chicago game and started the next week in a loss to the Eagles but left with a severe groin injury.

Game 9 vs. Eagles: Wallace out, Scott Tolzien in.

Tolzien was claimed on waivers this year after two seasons with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin. Tolzien finished out the Philly game and started the next two – a loss to the Giants and last week's 26-26 tie with the Vikings. Flynn took over early in the Minnesota game.

Game 12 vs. Lions: Tolzien out after two starts, Flynn in on Thanksgiving Day with the playoffs on the line for both teams.

Flynn is a former Packers backup whose career highlight is throwing six TD passes against the Lions in the final game of 2011. He parlayed that into a monstrous free agent contract with the Seahawks in 2012 but was beaten out in training camp by rookie Russell Wilson.

Flynn spent parts of this season with the Raiders and Bills and was released by both teams. The Packers signed Flynn on Nov. 12. Last week in relief of Tolzien, Flynn led the backers back from a 23-7 deficit to a 23-23 tie in regulation. An exchange of field goals in overtime created the 26-26 tie.

Favre-Rodgers chain: From Game 4 of 1992 through Game 8 of this season when Rodgers went out with the broken collarbone, Favre and Rodgers combined to start every game except two. Rodgers missed one start in 2010 because of a concussion and sat out the last game of 2011 to rest for the playoffs. Both games were against the Lions.

Packers focus: Rookie Eddie Lacy has given the Packers the first real sustained threat at running back since Ahman Green was in his prime a decade ago and posted 1,000-yard rushing seasons six times in seven years.

Lacy ranks eighth in the league in rushing with 806 yards. He has been a workhorse in the last eight games. He has had at least 22 carries in seven of the eight games and has four games of 99 yards or more.

Lacy's high game of the season is 150 yards rushing in the loss to Chicago, when Rodgers went out. Lacy rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown in last week's tie with the Vikings.

Stats pack:

Thanksgiving history: It hasn't been good for the Lions of late. They've lost nine straight on Thanksgiving Day and 11 of the last 12. They've won one game since moving to Ford Field in 2002 and it was against Green Bay – 22-14 in 2003.

Lions-Packers series history: In the regular season the Packers have a 94-65 lead with seven ties. They've also won two playoff games, in the 1993 and '94 seasons. Following an opening day win at Ford Field against a Favre-led Packers team in 2005, Green Bay has won 15 of the last 16 meetings. The Lions' only win was a 7-3 Lions win in 2010, when Rodgers went out in the first half with a concussion and was replaced by Flynn.

2003 revisited: Jason Hanson made all five field-goal attempts. Three were in the fourth quarter, from 49, 42 and 36 yards, as the Lions erased a 14-13 deficit going in to the last 15 minutes.

The Lions sacked Brett Favre four times, intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles.

The defensive stars for the Lions were Robert Porcher with two sacks and Dre Bly with two interceptions.

Team rankings

Packers: Offense – 5 rushing, 5 passing, 2 total; Defense – 19 rushing, 20 passing, 20 total.

Lions: Offense – 22 rushing, 3 passing, 5 total; Defense – 4 rushing, 28 passing, 22 total.

Packers' key stats: Only 2 TD passes and 6 interceptions since in the last 16 quarters without Rodgers; eighth in the league in sacks allowed per play on offense; ninth in third-down efficiency on offense, and 10th on defense.

Lions' key stats: Minus 12 in turnover ratio in the last four games and eight turnovers in the last two; seventh in third-down efficiency on offense, third on defense.

Sack dance: There should be a battle up front between the Packers' front seven trying to get to Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offensive line protecting him.

The Packers have 37 sacks, led by Clay Matthews with six, Mike Daniels with 5.5 and A.J. Hawk's five. They're second in the league in sacks per play.

The Lions rank first in the league in sacks allowed per play and have given up 14. However, Stafford has been pressured more than usual the last two games, and the Packers sacked him a season-high five times in a 22-9 victory in Game 5.