The Green Bay Packers (14-1) and Detroit Lions (10-5) face off in Week 17 of the NFL season Sunday.
When: 12:00 CST, Sunday, January 1, 2012.
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.
TV: FOX; Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick with the call, Laura Okmin on the sidelines.
Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; NFL Sunday Drive.
Series: Packers lead, 92-65-7 (Packers won last regular season game, 27-17, on Nov. 24, 2011 at Ford Field.)
Five things to watch
1. Money to be made
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that he wants all three quarterbacks to play on Sunday, but the middle man in the group has a golden opportunity to bump up his price tag this summer. Matt Flynn, the Packers backup quarterback and a free agent after the season, will likely see the majority of the snaps against the Lions. Another solid performance on the big stage may propel a quarterback-needy team to give Flynn the opportunity to start for their franchise—and the money that goes with it—next season.
2. Who needs receivers?
The Packers offense may be one of the most receiver-dependent outfits in the NFL, but they’ll be down two at that position on Sunday. Both Greg Jennings (knee) and Randall Cobb (groin) were ruled out this week by McCarthy. Their absence should mean an increase in snaps for the Packers’ four tight ends, and more specifically, rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor. Expect the two first-year players to log career highs in snaps and receptions on Sunday.
3. Clifton’s return
Packers left tackle Chad Clifton has played in some big games during his career, but Sunday’s tilt with the Lions might rank near the top. While the game alone has little overall meaning, how Clifton performs may influence whether or not he can play again in the NFL. The Packers get one chance to see him live before the playoffs begin, and if they don’t like what they see from him, McCarthy may have to go with with Marshall Newhouse as his starting left tackle in the postseason. It wouldn’t be overly surprising if Clifton wasn’t the same guy he was before the torn hamstring, as he’s 35 years old and in his 12th season in the NFL. A dud of a performance or set back with the injury could signal the end of Clifton’s NFL career.
4. Finding the guy
Both McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have expressed the need to experiment at right outside linebacker this week, so expect the Packers to start Erik Walden but mix in Vic So’oto, Jamari Lattimore, Brad Jones and Frank Zombo against the Lions. Somehow, someway, the Packers have to find more production from that position. In the end, it’s probably wishful thinking to say that one of those players will all of sudden produce in Week 17. However, a big performance, like Walden gave against the Bears in Week 17 last year, can still happen. It’d be a huge boost to a defense that needs one if a backup or two could show some signs of life against the Lions.
5. Streaks on the line
Say what you want about this game being “meaningless” for the Packers, but there are certainly some meaningful streaks on the line Sunday. The most obvious is the Packers’ winning streak over the Lions in the state of Wisconsin, a span that stretches 19 regular season games and the 1994 playoffs. No team has an active streak over one team at home as long as the Packers’ current stretch over the Lions. But the streaks don’t end there. The Packers have also won 13 straight regular season home finales, 12 straight at Lambeau Field and six straight in the NFC North. All will be on the line when the Lions come to Green Bay on Sunday.
The Lions will playing their starters 60 minutes in an effort to avoid a trip to the Superdome during Wildcard weekend. Their first win in 21 tries in Wisconsin would accomplish just that. The Packers will be playing it safe, just as they should. The 10-5 Lions are more than good enough to beat a team, even one as deep as the Packers, that’s playing mostly backups. 15-1 would be nice, but the Packers will have to settle for 14-2.
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2