Black & Blue Review: Week 13

The division race is a two-team derby with the Packers and Vikings, but the Bears and Lions are still in the hunt for a wildcard spot despite both being 4-7.

Detroit Lions (4-7)
The door is still open - thanks to the overall mediocrity of this year's NFC - for a wild card playoff berth, and the Lions aren't counting themselves out of the race.

To get there, however, they have to shake their current five-game losing streak and improve their 4-7 record to get at least to the .500 mark by the end of the season just to have a chance at slipping in the back door to the playoffs.

"It's crazy," quarterback Joey Harrington said. "I guess it's the one bright spot, knowing we still have quite a bit to play for. However, it doesn't change the fact we've got to win and we've got to do it quick."

A more realistic approach for the Lions might be to simply start playing well enough to improve on last year's 5-11 record, with as many wins as they can manage out of the remaining five games on the schedule.

They would appear to have a winnable game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, who - like themselves - have a 4-7 record but will be giving rookie quarterback John Navarre in his first NFL starting assignment.

After Arizona, the Lions will play at Green Bay, then come home for games against Minnesota and Chicago, and finish the season at Tennessee.

That makes the Arizona game a virtual must-win situation for the Lions, whatever their late-season ambitions.

"We're in a position where we're lucky enough to still be in the race," Harrington said. "But we're in a spot where we can't afford to give any more ground. We've let games slip away in the last five weeks and we can't afford to do that any more."

PERSONNEL NEWS
--QB Joey Harrington will undoubtedly be under the microscope when he plays Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field. Harrington's production has been subpar in recent weeks - leading the Lions to just one offensive touchdown in the last three games - and the home field crowd has become critical of his performance.

--QB Mike McMahon will be in his familiar backup role when the Lions meet the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field on Sunday, but coach Steve Mariucci might be a little quicker with the hook if starter Joey Harrington flounders. McMahon made his first appearance of the season in the Thanksgiving Day loss to Indianapolis and, although he didn't produce any points, he completed 11 of 15 passes.

--WR Roy Williams said he is reinvigorated after hitting "the wall" after eight regular season games and - more important - is nearly 100 percent recovered from the sprained left ankle he suffered Oct. 10. The rookie receiver had 17 catches for 277 yards and four TDs in his first three games; he has had 18 catches for 252 yards and one TD in his last six. He missed two games with the ankle injury. With five touchdowns on the season Williams is two shy of Willie Green's team rookie record set in 1991.

--WR Az-Zahir Hakim, who has sat out the Lions' last two games with a back injury, has practiced this week and is likely to play Sunday in the game against Arizona. Hakim has become the No. 2 receiver to rookie Roy Williams and was having his most productive year in three seasons with the Lions before being injured in the Nov. 7 game against Washington.

--RB Kevin Jones has rushed for 280 yards in the past three games.

-- LB Teddy Lehman is the only rookie linebacker in the league to start every game.

--OLB Boss Bailey will not make his comeback from training camp knee surgery Sunday against Arizona as he had hoped. The Lions' second-year strong side linebacker is back in a holding pattern after suffering some "aches" in his right knee last week. He tested the knee again Wednesday, felt discomfort and has been listed as out for the Arizona game. It is uncertain now if he'll play at all this season.

2004 RANKINGS: offense 29th (29th rush, 26th pass); defense 25th (21st rush, 22nd pass).

Green Bay Packers (7-4)
The Packers have rushed for 200 yards or more 11 times during the tenure of coach Mike Sherman. The only team to beat them when they've done that is the Eagles - not once but twice.

Yes, the Packers would love to jam the ball down the Eagles' throats Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. But what the Packers want to do more of is score points.

"We didn't convert in the red zone like we needed to," guard Mike Wahle said. "In the first game we turned the ball over a couple times and in the second game we had fourth and 1 near the end zone that we didn't get going.

"I think the real problem is that their red-zone defense is so good a lot of teams can run up to the 20 and then all of a sudden they clamp down. You have to give them their due. We need to move the ball and if we get down there we have to score touchdowns."

The Eagles beat the Packers, 17-14, at Lambeau Field last October. In the divisional playoffs, the Eagles won, 20-17, in overtime in Philly.

"Statistics are fine but points are the most important thing and I think that was the biggest difference last year," quarterback Brett Favre said. "It wasn't one of those games where we're not moving the ball. You look for a big play here or there; we had plenty of big plays but no points to show for it."

PERSONNEL NEWS
--RB Ahman Green (rib cartilage) was back practicing Thursday and should be fine Sunday. He will wear a flak jacket. "Most quarterbacks wear it so it's a normal thing," he said.

--CB Ahmad Carroll blew an assignment Monday night, enabling Rams WR Isaac Bruce to turn a short pass into a 56-yard gain. It appeared as if CB Al Harris was at fault but it was the rookie.

--DT Cletidus Hunt is fired up to exact some revenge over the Eagles. "During the offseason we thought about it but when the season started you take one game at a time," he said. "Now, it's full throttle on whupping Philly's a--, stopping them in every aspect of their game, in their backyard."

--S Darren Sharper was back practicing Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with an extended knee problem. He will play Sunday and hopes at some point later in the year to be 100 percent.

--NT Colin Cole, activated off the practice squad, could be Grady Jackson's backup this week. James Lee has been almost invisible in 48 snaps as the backup nose in the last five games.

-- The Packers are allowing just 74.4 rushing yards per game since NT Grady Jackson returned five games ago.

2004 RANKINGS: Packers: offense 3rd (8th rush, 3rd pass); defense 24th (9th rush, 28th pass).


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