The NFC North is up for grabs with the top three teams separated by just a half-game. On Thanksgiving, the Green Bay Packers will visit the Detroit Lions in a contest that has major implications regarding who will win the division.
Even as the two teams and Chicago Bears shared similar records midway through the season, the Packers were the clear favorites to end the 2013 NFL season in first place. However, that all changed in Week Nine when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. The initial prognosis stated that the quarterback could miss up to three games. Thursday will mark the fourth game since Rodgers went down, and it doesn’t appear that he is ready to return.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has all but ruled out the possibility of the 2011 MVP taking the field. As a result, the Packers must turn towards Matt Flynn in this important contest.
Flynn, who was considered the best backup quarterback in the league during his first stint with Green Bay, has been struggling to stay in the NFL this year. He was released by both the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, before rejoining his old team. Flynn is the third signal caller to get a chance in Rodgers’s absence.
On Sunday, Flynn played most of the way, in favor of Scott Tolzien. He did the best job of any Packers backup quarterback, thus far, completing 58 percent of his passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. Still, it wasn’t enough to give Green Bay the victory, as they tied the Minnesota Vikings in overtime. Including the game in which Rodgers got hurt, the Packers have yet to win without their best player.
Detroit’s starting quarterback is healthy, but they’re in the midst of a losing streak of their own. The Lions have lost two straight against seemingly inferior competition. In Week 11, they fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are under .500. On Sunday, they were beaten by the formerly 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Detroit appeared to be one of the best teams in the NFL, but their recent games may be proving otherwise.
"You are what your record says you are," quarterback Matthew Stafford, said via the team’s official website. "At this point, we lost some games and we won some games. We‘ve got to find the little things that maybe are eluding us right now and do them a little better and find a way to get on a run."
The Lions have mostly themselves to blame for their recent failures. The team has blown fourth quarter leads in the past few weeks, and they’ve been turning the ball over at an unacceptable rate. In their last four games, Detroit has 13 giveaways, compared to just one takeaway.
Despite being near the bottom of the league in turnover differential, the Lions have managed to find their way atop the NFC North because of their explosive offense. Calvin Johnson continues to be the best playmaker in the NFL, leading all wide receivers with 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nate Burleson is finally back for the first time in two months, giving Stafford another reliable option.
The Packers are six-point underdogs, according to the point spread at most Las Vegas casinos. The betting line includes a 50-point over/under, which is the highest of any game on the Week 13 schedule.
It’s the 21st time that the two rivals will face off on Thanksgiving, which is more than any two other opponents in league history. Detroit leads the all-time record at 11-8-1, but the Packers have won the last three matchups.
A win for Green Bay would allow them to control their own destiny within the division. Last week’s tie has the Packers 0.5 games behind Detroit, but they won the first meeting between the two in 2013. Green Bay dominated the ground game that day, rushing for 180 yards and holding Reggie Bush to just 44 yards on 13 carries. The 99 yards on 23 carries for Eddie Lacy was his first big performance of the season.
Prediction: Detroit 27, Green Bay 24