This is one of those weeks where the Packers need to approach their game with the Lions as a business trip. Pack up a change of clothes, the iPad and shaving kit, kiss the spouse good-bye, pat the kids on the head. Go to Detroit, take care of business and come home and think about the final three opponents: New England, the Giants and the Bears.
Despite all the injuries and the late game losses, the Packers can claim the #2 seed in the NFC by winning their final four games. You can argue that a loss in New England would still get them there, assuming the Eagles lose once more and the Bears lose a game before the season finale in Green Bay.
It starts this week against the Lions. If the Lions were salesmen they would have been fired long ago. If they were in "Glengarry Glen Ross" they would not get coffee. Coffee is for closers. The Lions have been ahead in the second half at home against everyone they played this season, but couldn't close the deal against the Eagles, Giants, Jets, Patriots and Bears.
You need look no further back then the first matchup between the teams to ensure they keep their guard up. The Pack let a big lead slip away at Lambeau and needed a ground-churning final drive to escape with a victory over a team that hadn't won a road game in years.
The Lions are a different team now. They're down to their third-string QB, as injuries have shelved Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill. Drew Stanton leads the team now. Defensively, they're weak on the back end, but their front four is very solid and rookie Ndamukong Suh has locked up Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and figures to be a fixture at the Pro Bowl for years.
All that said, the Lions are apt to compete hard for 60 minutes. Despite their record, they're well-coached and are headed in the right direction. But they haven't yet learned how to win. And now isn't the time to show them. The close losses have eliminated any margin for error the rest of the way and this is a game where the Pack needs to demonstrate why they are one of the handful of teams that have a shot to win the Super Bowl.
This is a game where good teams take care of business. They go in and dispatch of lesser opponents in a surgical fashion. The Packers will leave behind one of their best players, Cullen Jenkins, who re-aggravated a calf injury and is expected to miss at least the next two games.
Under Mike McCarthy, the Pack has been very good on the road, particularly late in the season. There is no reason to doubt that we will see another strong showing this weekend. But the slow starts of late are a bit concerning: allowing an inferior opponent to stay in the game early is not good for my blood pressure.
With a prime time game in Foxboro looming, you worry how a young team handles an opponent like Detroit. Despite the Lions' record, they have to be taken seriously. Playoff tiebreakers begin with the division record. The only way the Packers could hand the division to the Bears, even with a win over Chicago, is if the Pack loses in Detroit and Chicago knocks off the Vikings.
So the mission is clear. This is a business trip. Take care of your affairs and move on. The Pack needs to dispatch of the lowly Lions and set their sights on the Patriots to see how they match up with the best the league has to offer. With three potential playoff teams looming, a slip-up in Motown could keep the team home for the postseason.
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