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By John McMullen, NFL Editor - Archive - Email
Lions prepare to climb their Everest
Jim Caldwell The Detroit Lions' Everest is the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Philadelphia, PA ( - When you take up rock climbing, it's probably not a good idea to start with Mount Everest.

The world's highest peak is just under 30,000 feet above sea level and attracts many experienced climbers as the ultimate test of their skills, an obstacle so treacherous it requires bottled oxygen to reach the top, at least for most.

So why do people chose to scale Mount Everest?

According to George Mallory, who some believe is the first man to reach the summit, "Because it's there."

The Detroit Lions could use some of that Mallory bravado because they are preparing to take on a task that is far more difficult than climbing Earth's tallest mountain, at least for them.

The Lions' Everest is the Green Bay Packers or more specifically the Packers at Lambeau Field.

The last time a Detroit team won in Wisconsin George H.W. Bush was president, the Dow Jones average topped 3,000 for the first time, and Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were still relevant on the pop charts.

It was 1991 and the Lions have lost 23 straight in the Badger State since.

Postseason play is already assured for both Detroit and Green Bay this time around but plenty will be on the line Sunday when the rivals close the regular season at Lambeau.

The winner will not only claim the NFC North title and an all important first- round bye in the playoffs, it will have an outside chance of securing the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.

For Green Bay that would mean a win, coupled with a Seattle loss, while Detroit would need the triumph and setbacks from both the Seahawks and Arizona.

"Any time you get to play for a division championship, especially in the NFC North, it's huge," said Lions guard Rob Sims. "It's going to be a good one."

The Lions, however, face the daunting history in the winner-take-all contest, along with the opportunity to exorcise some serious demons.

To be fair, playing in Green Bay is an issue for most teams because Aaron Rodgers has been nearly flawless on his home field.

The Packers are 7-0 at Lambeau in 2014, averaging 41.1 points per game, and Rodgers has been lights out with a almost video-game-like 132.6 passer rating, currently the highest single-season home passer rating in NFL history.

If A-Rod keeps that pace up for one more contest he will be breaking his own record of 128.5 set in 2011, and next of the list is, you guessed it, Rodgers at 126.4 in 2013.

"(Rodgers is) just certainly an exceptional talent, but he's also extremely familiar with the system that they run," Lions first-year coach Jim Caldwell said. "I mean, he knows where everyone is. He delivers the ball quickly and on time.

"When he doesn't he's certainly capable of getting outside of the pocket and gaining ground on the ground with his legs, but then also finding open receivers down the field. I think his familiarity, and he's a good decision maker as well."

Before this season Detroit was known primarily as an offensive team but the Lions are just 20th in total offense at 326.7 ypg and their own QB, Matthew Stafford, has been below average away from Detroit with a 72.8 road passer rating.

Yet the Lions are better equipped than most to at least slow Rodgers and the Packers down, entering Week 17 with the second-ranked defense in all of football, a group that allows just 295.9 yards per game. Detroit is also second in points allowed, surrendering only 16.8 per game and have the top- rated run defense (63.8 ypg).

"You just know it's going to be a game where you have to be very efficient throwing the ball," Rodgers said. "You have to look for those opportunities for extended plays in the run game and the pass game."

Another development that could trend favorably toward Detroit is Rodgers' health as the veteran has a lingering calf issue and has also been battling with the flu.

"We have a full-plate game plan and I'm confident he'll be able to run it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

The real key to Green Bay's home success, though, is a near-historic attention to detail.

The Packers sport the best turnover differential in the NFL at plus-15 and have given it away just 11 times all season, on pace to be a franchise record and just one above the all-time NFL record of 10 miscues set by the 2010 New England Patriots and matched by the 2011 San Francisco 49ers.

"I think it's very, very difficult in this league to come away from a ball game without gaining a turnover and it's very, very tough to win when you lose one or multiple," Caldwell admitted.

"We've got to do a great job of protecting the ball, particularly up there (Lambeau Field). You know, typically that's been the problem with teams that have gone up. They've turned the ball over numerous times. You give the ball to him (Rodgers) an extra two or three times and believe me, he's going to put some points on the board."

Most outside observers think this is a hill too big for the Lions to climb.

Green Bay has won 22 consecutive regular-season home games against Detroit and 23 straight overall if you count a 1994 playoff triumph at Lambeau. Add in the fact that Stafford has been under whelming on the road this season and you should have a recipe for the fourth straight NFC North crown for the Packers.

Or do the Lions finally reach their summit?

"I can't do a forecast," Caldwell said. "I can only tell you that I hope our experiences have benefited us. You'll find that when you get into this stage of the season, that it's going to take your ability to do certain things extremely well and you have to understand that the teams that you're playing have very few deficiencies.

"But, you can also get hot this time of year."

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