The final piece of the playoff puzzle will be decided as the (9-6) Detroit Lions host the (9-6) Green Bay Packers at Ford Field to decide which team will win the NFC North (8:30pm ET Sunday on NBC).
No team has been hotter than the Packers over the last month and no quarterback better than Aaron Rodgers (pictured). Once again, he put a struggling team on his back and has them into playoff contention despite a 4-6 start to the season. After the team’s fourth consecutive loss against the Washington Redskins, Rodgers once again casually addressed the media saying quite simply, “I guess we’ll have to win out.”
Much like his R-E-L-A-X comments a few years ago, Rodgers’ nonchalance was treated with a bit of disdain. That’s because the Packers weren’t playing well, he wasn’t playing well and the chances of them winning out with games against Houston, Seattle and three in the division were slim to none just like their playoff chances.
Well, flash forward to Sunday because riding a five game winning streak, the Packers have so far done just that. With a victory against the Lions, not only will Green Bay improbably win the NFC North but they’ll have completed Rodgers’ statement by winning all six of their remaining games.
To his credit, Rodgers has excelled during this five game stretch, throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, including five which came last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers now leads the NFL in passing touchdowns with 36, ranks fourth in passing yards (4,128) and fifth in passer rating (102.7). He’s officially joined the MVP conversation.
Rodgers hasn’t been alone in this winning streak however as his top receiver and old friend Jordy Nelson has made his case for Comeback Player of the Year. Nelson missed all of last season with a torn ACL but immediately came back to make an impact for the Packers. Nelson scored five touchdowns in the team’s first four games. Even during the losing streak, Nelson caught four touchdowns in those four games and over 90 receiving yards in three of the four.
During the streak, Nelson has been even better. He has caught five touchdowns and recorded over 500 receiving yards in the five game span. He has also averaged 7.6 catches for 105.6 yards per game in that time. Nelson leads all NFL receivers with 14 touchdowns and ranks fifth in receptions (91) and sixth in receiving yards (1,191).
Can the Lions get back to the Postseason?
In a year where the Cleveland Browns almost made the worst kind of history, its served as a reminder that the Lions own winless season really isn’t that far in the rearview mirror. It was 2008, just eight years ago. Since that time the Lions have made incredible strides and now they look for their first division title since winning the NFC Central in 1993.
A large part of Detroit’s turnover has been because of Matthew Stafford, who was the first overall draft selection in 2009, the prize of sorts for that 0-16 season. Since Stafford has been with the Lions, they have slowly gotten better, going from zero wins in 2008 to 10 in 2011. The ensuing years were a bit of a downturn but in 2014 Detroit hit its peak, winning 11 games, finishing second in the NFC North and reaching the playoffs for the first time since before that dreaded ’08 season.
This season’s Lions had a five game winning streak of their own and at 9-4 looked like a sure thing to win the division. Then Detroit ran into back-to-back weeks of the NFC East buzzsaw, dropping road games against both the playoff bound New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, while the Packers continued to pick up wins and crawl back to a first place tie with Detroit in the NFC North race.
Our Preview’s Green Bay Packers vs Detroit Lions Betting Predictions & Picks
As mentioned earlier in this preview, that road trip through the NFC East was brutal for Detroit and its somewhat lingering playoff chances. But the Lions get to finish the season off at home, where they have won six in a row. It’s possible Detroit has a slight advantage there. Whether it is enough for my betting picks and predictions to come down on their side, well we’ll have to see.
There’s also a good chance cornerback Darius Slay sits out again this week after injuring his hamstring. Without Clay, the Lions have almost no chance of stopping Rodgers and Nelson from creating and executing explosive plays down the field as the two have done with ease during Green Bay’s winning streak. That means Stafford will simply have to outplay his counterpart and while Detroit’s signal caller is very good in his own right, no one is on Rodgers’ level when he’s playing the way he has been recently, or really how he’s played against Detroit his whole career.
The most recent example of this came in a week three matchup between the two teams, which was won easily by Green Bay as the Rodgers/Nelson duo shredded the Detroit defense to the tune of four touchdowns for Rodgers, two of which went to Nelson in his first 100+ yard game of the season. The Lions had Slay in that game which is a pretty scary prospect as to what that could mean for this winner take-all contest.
In addition to the Rodgers factor, Detroit and Green Bay are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the turnover margin, which in the NFL is one of the most important and sometimes underrated reason for success. Over their last three games, Detroit has turned the ball over six times and hasn’t recorded any takeaways of their own. Meanwhile, in the same span, Green Bay has been turnover free while their defense has managed a highly impressive 12 takeaways. That’s a difference of 18 on the turnover margin and if that is a trend that plays into Sunday’s game, it’s going to be a long one for the Lions.
Given everything that is on the line, it is fitting that this would be the last regular NFL season game. Currently, the Packers are 3.5 point favorites. It’s a safe bet to say that Green Bay will cover that en route to yet another NFC North title, regaining the crown Minnesota took from them last season.
So my betting predictions and picks for this New Year’s Day NFL game are:
- Back the Green Bay Packers -3.5pts @ +100 betting odds with 5Dimes. It is -105 with Bovada. Alternatively you could get -3pts with BetOnline for -120 as a slightly safer option.
- Take the over 49.5pts for the total points scored @ -110 with 5Dimes or BetOnline (it is -115 with Bovada). Their first meeting was a high scoring affair.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.