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NFL Preview - Green Bay (6-4) at Detroit (2-8)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Perhaps winning the football game shouldn't be the main directive for the Detroit Lions on Thursday afternoon.
Maybe, when the Green Bay Packers visit the Motor City, the Lions' first goal should simply be to avoid embarrassment on their marquee Thanksgiving Day showcase.
The Lions have lost five straight on the holiday, with all five defeats coming by double-digits. Detroit was a 47-10 loser against Tennessee on the holiday last season, and has also suffered defeats of 11, 17, 20, and 32 points since last winning on Thanksgiving back in 2003.
That day, the Lions were 22-14 winners over the Packers, and it is that more positive slice of history that Jim Schwartz's club will be trying to replicate as they kick off the Week 12 schedule.
Detroit comes into Thursday's contest basking in the glow of what has become an ultra-rare winning moment for the franchise, though there is a shadow somewhat obscuring that ray of sunshine.
Rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford, who became the first NFL rookie in 72 years to throw five touchdown passes in a game when he led the Lions to a thrilling 38-37 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, is unlikely to play against the Packers after suffering a shoulder injury late in that contest.
Stafford's injury means veteran Daunte Culpepper is likely to make his second straight Thanksgiving Day start, and Culpepper can only hope that this outing goes better than last year's.
Against the Titans, Culpepper was 13-of-26 for just 134 yards with a touchdown and an interception, as Detroit fell into a 35-10 halftime hole. Culpepper is 0-7 as the Lions' starter over the past two seasons, including a 26-0 loss the Packers in his most recent outing this season, and hasn't won a game he's opened since leading the Raiders to a victory over the Chiefs on Nov. 25, 2007.
Seeking to extend the misery for the quarterback and his team will be Green Bay, which also enters Week 12 in a good news/bad news situation.
The Packers have improved their playoff prospects with credible back-to-back victories over the Cowboys (17-7) and 49ers (30-24), but in Sunday's win over San Francisco lost two lynch pins of a defense that had helped fuel those wins.
Outside linebacker Aaron Kampman - a two-time Pro Bowler and the team's best pass rusher over the past four seasons - and physical veteran cornerback Al Harris were both lost for the season due to knee injuries suffered against the 49ers.
The Lions will be looking to exploit that factor as the Niners did in cutting a 23-3 deficit to six points late in last week's contest, and the absences will place more pressure on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense.
Rodgers was 32-of-45 for 344 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against San Francisco, his third 300-yard game of the season and first since tossing for a season-high 358 yards against Detroit on Oct. 18th.
Green Bay is 12-18-1 all-time on Thanksgiving.
The series between the Lions and Packers dates back to the 1930 season, with Green Bay holding a 87-64-7 regular season edge. The Pack has won eight straight and 10 of the last 11 in the series, including the aforementioned 26-0 home win in Week 6, and a 48-25 triumph in their trip to Ford Field in Week 2 of last season.
Detroit's last victory over Green Bay came by a 17-3 count in Week 1 of the 2005 campaign in the Motor City.
In addition to the regular season series, the clubs have met twice in the postseason, with Green Bay winning NFC First-Round Playoff matchups in the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is 7-0 in his career against the Lions, while Detroit's Schwartz is 0-1 against both McCarthy and Green Bay as a head coach.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
One of the top issues for Green Bay as it heads to Detroit is finishing off drives, something the Packers did poorly against the Lions back in Week 6. The Pack rolled up 435 yards of total offense and held the ball for more than 40 of the game's 60 minutes, but scored just two touchdowns, none after halftime. As mentioned, Rodgers (2788 passing yards, 19 TD, 5 INT) comes off a fine passing day against the 49ers, one in which wideout Greg Jennings (43 receptions, 3 TD) had a long-awaited big game with five catches for a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown. Fellow WR Donald Driver (46 receptions, 4 TD), who has been the team's most reliable pass-catcher this season, was held to five grabs totaling 40 yards on the day, but tight end Jermichael Finley (24 receptions, 1 TD) and wideout Jordy Nelson (14 receptions, 2 TD) helped pick up the slack. Finley had a career-high seven catches totaling 54 yards in the loss, and Nelson scored his second touchdown of the year. Green Bay running back Ryan Grant (829 rushing yards, 5 TD, 20 receptions) comes off just his second 100-yard game of the season, a 21-carry, 129-yard effort that included a touchdown. The Packers are last in the league in sacks allowed (43) and fourth-down conversion percentage (16.7), but have committed the fewest turnovers in the league (8) and lead the NFL in turnover margin (+14).
Though Detroit did manage its second win of the Schwartz era last week, the team's struggling defense came up with few answers in the victory. After surrendering 37 points and 439 yards to what was the worst offense in the league entering the day, the Lions are now last in the league in scoring defense (30.1 points per game), passing defense (275.3 yards per game), opponents' completion percentage (70.4), and are tied for last in interceptions recorded (6) along with the Browns and Redskins. Complicating matters for Detroit are injuries that place the status of safeties Kalvin Pearson (hamstring) and Ko Simpson (knee), linebacker Ernie Sims (hamstring), and defensive end Dewayne White (toe) in doubt as the team embarks on a short week. Cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon (29 tackles) and William James (37 tackles, 1 INT) will be among those responsible for slowing the Green Bay receivers, with safety Louis Delmas (55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) among those helping over the top. Outside linebacker Julian Peterson (44 tackles, 3.5 sacks), who had two-and-a-half sacks of Rodgers in Week 6, will be seeking a repeat performance on Thursday. A Lions squad that ranks 20th in the league against the run (116.2 yards per game) will lean hard on top run-stopper Larry Foote (71 tackles, 2 sacks) and fellow linebacker DeAndre Levy (47 tackles, 1 INT). Foote had a game-high 12 tackles and Detroit's only sack against Cleveland last Sunday.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The Lions come off a week in which they piled up 473 yards of total offense, a suggestion that the team was turning the corner on that side of the ball, but the Stafford injury could put the brakes on that progress. Making matters worse are hand and knee injuries to top wideout Calvin Johnson (39 receptions, 2 TD), which place the talented receiver's status in doubt one week after he caught seven balls for a season-high 161 yards and a touchdown. Probable starter Culpepper (384 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), who carries a season passer rating of 66.9 into Thursday's contest, could have to rely on wideouts Bryant Johnson (24 receptions, 2 TD) and Dennis Northcutt (26 receptions, 1 TD), along with tight end Brandon Pettigrew (29 receptions, 2 TD), if he wishes to engineer the upset. The rookie Pettigrew made a big impact against the Browns with six catches for 72 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining on the clock. In the running game, Kevin Smith (560 rushing yards, 33 receptions, 4 TD) is still seeking his first 100-yard rushing effort since September, but last week hauled in four balls for 104 yards and a touchdown as a pass-catcher. Detroit has thrown a league-high-tying 18 interceptions on the season, a total Culpepper will be trying not to add to, and the club's 30 sacks allowed are also near the bottom of the league.
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is in search of sandbags to stem the tide of injuries that the team is contending with at the moment. In addition to the loss of Kampman and Harris for the year, Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson (hip) and 2009 sacks leader Cullen Jenkins (ankle) are both dealing with injuries that have them considered questionable heading into Week 12. In the secondary, the team will need players like cornerbacks Tramon Williams (23 tackles, 1 INT) and Jarrett Bush (8 tackles) to take on an increased role, with safeties Nick Collins (31 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) and Derrick Martin (18 tackles) helping out over the top. In the pass rushing game, it is time for first-round pick and outside linebacker Clay Matthews (27 tackles, 4 sacks) to begin living up to his promise. The most stable area of the team at the moment, given the injuries elsewhere, is in the run-stopping game where inside linebackers Nick Barnett (61 tackles, 3 sacks) and A.J. Hawk (50 tackles, 1 sack), along with linemen B.J. Raji (13 tackles, 1 sack) and Johnny Jolly (26 tackles, 1 INT), are pacing a unit that is fourth in NFL rushing defense (90.7 yards per game). The first-round rookie Raji posted his first career sack last week against a 49ers team that rushed the ball just 10 times.
Rodgers has taken some heat for getting sacked a lot this year, but the former first-rounder rarely turns the ball over and is a regular contributor to fantasy lineups. He's a must-start against the Lions, as are Jennings and Driver, his top two targets. Now healthy, Finley is well worth considering at the tight end position, and Grant - who comes off a 100-yard week - is a solid play as well against a suspect Detroit defense. Even against the Lions, the Packers defense is a shaky start given the team's injury problems, but kicker Mason Crosby may be worth using.
Stafford would have been an intriguing play this week for the Lions had he not suffered the injury, but his replacement, Culpepper, holds less appeal. If he's healthy, the same cannot be said for Calvin Johnson, who finally looks to be living up to his fantasy promise, and the rookie Pettigrew, who seems to be developing into a useful tight end. Kevin Smith had over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Browns, but that type of production has been the exception rather than the rule for the back. Detroit kicker Jason Hanson has a long history of Thanksgiving Day production, but don't count on him getting as many chances as he did last week, when he had a field goal and five points- after.
The Lions may win another game or two this season, but their need for a major comeback against a horrible Browns team last Sunday should show that they are a long way from beating a quality opponent. The second major injury to Stafford this season isn't going to help matters any on offense, and the defense had trouble slowing a Cleveland attack that was last in the league in a number of categories just five days ago. The Packers, meanwhile, may not be perfect, and the injuries to Kampman and Harris are troubling indeed, but Green Bay is still light years better than Detroit, and will score enough points to extend the Lions' Thanksgiving Day misery by another year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 37, Lions 20
11/24 16:56:48 ET