Lions-Packers Final Thoughts:Eric Ebron's rising stock; a wistful look back to last year; Stafford's sack stats and more, and sticking with my pick and why:
Ebron is saying the right things about his future with the Lions after doing the right things on the field in a strong finish to the season.
What he has done lately bodes well for his future. There should be no thought that he is making a farewell appearance as a Lion today.
Ebron has played the best ball of his four seasons with the Lions in a second-half playoff run that fell short of making the postseason. Ebron has been a consistent, playmaking tight end, providing matchup advantages over safeties and linebackers that was envisioned when the Lions drafted him 10th overall in 2014.
For the season, he has 52 catches for 565 yards and four touchdowns. What he has done in the last seven games is most impressive. He has 34 catches – out of 44 targets – for 370 yards and three TDs. At 6-4, 253 pounds combined with speed and a willingness to go over the middle, he has been a force that complements the receiving corps.
When the Lions picked up the fifth-year option on his contract in May – for a nonguaranteed salary of about $8.2 million in 2018 – it seemed like a 50-50 proposition of whether he'd actually be back.
Now it seems like a no-brainer to bring him back, and that suits Ebron fine, despite the criticism he had gotten until recently. The Lions have until March to decide whether to exercise the option. They also can negotiate a longer-term deal.
"I always like to finish what I started," Ebron said earlier this week. "That's how it's been for me. At the end of the day, it's not my decision. You'll find out in March when I found out in March."
Is he looking to get out, and start over somewhere else?
"No," Ebron said. "Absolutely not. I'd love to play with Matthew Stafford as long as I possibly can. That's a great quarterback.
"A lot of teams don't have a great quarterback."
What coulda been: It's hard not to think back to the electric atmosphere at Ford Field last year for the final-game showdown between the Lions and Packers for the NFC North title. It would have been close to that today if the Lions were alive for a wild card berth – with a wait to see how the Falcons do against the Panthers with kickoff at 4:25.
Sad sack stats: A record nobody wants to see broken today – except the Packers' pass rushers – is Matthew Stafford's personal high of 45 times sacked, in 2014. He's already been sacked 45 times in the first 15 games.
There's a difference, though. He had 594 pass attempts in 2014. He has 536 this year, and already has a single-season high of 269 yards lost on sacks. He's been sacked once for every 12.9 drop-backs (does not include scrambles).
Green light: I'd like to see rookie running back Tion Green get the majority of carries. He's been a gamer in the four games he's played. Last week at Cincinnati he converted on third and one and fourth and one and scored the go-ahead touchdown.
"He's got a certain knack for running the football," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week.
It would have been nice to see him sooner.
Packers out – one two years late: On Friday, the Packers ruled out six players out for today. One rang a bell – tight end Richard Rodgers. Why couldn't he have sat out two years ago? He wouldn't have been available to catch the 61-yard Hail Mary on the last play that beat the Lions and ended their playoff hopes.
Sticking with my pick: It's a game the Lions should win – like last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a game the Lions had to win and my pick was Lions 37, Bengals 13. The Lions bungled their way out of the playoffs with a 26-17 loss.
Nothing is riding on today's game, except for the individual motivation players might have. It's hard to have faith that the Lions will play a lot better than they did last week.
Prediction: No change. Lions 21, Packers 20.
And don't bet on it.