Packers Wary of Upset-Minded Lions

Green Bay enters Sunday's tilt at Detroit with post-season hopes. But with perpetual Lion-killer Charles Woodson hobbled, can Detroit can play spoiler? News, notes and more from Green Bay inside ...

Not even the oddsmakers can be sure.

Despite a sizable disparity between the Packers' 8-4 record and Detroit's 2-10 mark and the fact that Green Bay is playing for a spot in the playoffs while the Lions are counting down the days until they spend another postseason at home, the matchup Sunday at Ford Field isn't a gimme for the visiting team.

The early line is no more than a touchdown in the Packers' favor, and those on the Green Bay side aren't disputing the notion that they could have a battle on their hands.

"It's a division game. These are always the toughest games on the road, and that's our viewpoint," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. "We don't need to look at the record. They came into Lambeau a few weeks back and played very well against us, the best they've played against us in some time.

"We stay true to the tape. We need to go to Detroit and play our best game."

Their unbeaten track record with McCarthy as coach against the Lions notwithstanding, the Packers aren't in a safe position to be overlooking any team, including the almost-perennial NFC North doormat.

Green Bay is only a game behind division-leading Chicago and barely on the wrong side for a wild-card berth in the playoffs. Yet, the Packers have little margin for error in this game because of what will be around the bend the final three weeks of the regular season.

"Obviously, we're aware of what's going on," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We're in a race with all of them."

The Lions aren't part of that logjam of top NFC teams pointing toward the playoffs, but they could send the Packers spinning by pulling off the upset win -- a feat they nearly accomplished when they lost 28-26 at Green Bay in Week 4.

A Packers loss in the early slate of games Sunday could touch off a chain reaction elsewhere in the league, particularly in Chicago, where the Bears would gain some extra motivation in their showdown with the AFC-leading Patriots in the marquee late-afternoon contest.

Small wonder McCarthy and his staff are pushing the players this week "harder than they've been pushed," the boss said.

"All division games are extremely important ... (and) we're going after this one," McCarthy said. "It's an extremely important game. We spend extra time throughout the offseason on division games. We spend extra time in training camp on division games. This is a very important football game, especially a division game that takes place in December.

"We need to play our best football of the year."

The Packers are hoping to win out, which would ensure them of the NFC North title since they would win the tiebreaker over the Bears, who come to Green Bay for the regular-season finale Jan. 2. Winning the last four games won't be easy, not with a prime-time road game against the Patriots lurking Dec. 19 and then home dates against the Giants and Bears.

All of their optimistic talk, however, would be for naught if the Packers don't subdue the Lions one more time.

Detroit is banged up, just like the Packers, and will be counting on third-string quarterback Drew Stanton. Yet, contrary to their woeful record, the Lions have been competitive in their indoor facility, where they are 2-4. Three of those four defeats were by a combined 10 points against prospective playoff teams: the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets and the Bears, who rallied late for a four-point win Sunday.

"I never use the words 'must win' because I don't feel the appropriateness applies to football," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "But, I think that it's an important game. Every game's important. You could say those words a different way about any time you step on the field.

"I don't think there's any time where you go into it thinking, 'It's OK if we don't win this one, we've got next week.' Obviously, that doesn't apply to December football. We need to take care of business and play well."

SERIES HISTORY: 161st regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 89-64-7. Green Bay is 9-0 against the Lions with Mike McCarthy as head coach since 2006, and the Packers have won 10 straight games against their division rival. It's the longest winning streak by one team in the series since the Lions rattled off 11 consecutive victories from 1949 to '54. Green Bay has won the last four meetings at Ford Field by an average of 15.8 points.

Game Week Notebook:

  • Playing hurt is old news for the Pro Bowl tandem of cornerback Charles Woodson and left tackle Chad Clifton.

    The veterans' durability is being put to the test this week, however. While Clifton is trying to shake off a concussion he sustained at some point in the 34-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Woodson is hobbled with an ankle sprain he sustained in practice Wednesday.

    The status of both players for Sunday's game at Detroit won't be known until the end of the week.

    "We'll see how he is," coach Mike McCarthy said of Woodson, who has soldiered on the entire season with a bad toe.

    As for Clifton, who also has started every game despite having balky knees, McCarthy said the head injury wasn't diagnosed until Monday.

    "We're going through the normal procedure for a concussion," McCarthy said.

    That included seeing how Clifton would respond to some light physical activity, as he participated in the jog-though at the start of practice Wednesday.

    Second-year player T.J. Lang, who has three career starts, took the starting reps at left tackle in team drills and is getting ready just in case.

    The Packers already will be without two starters Sunday: defensive end Cullen Jenkins and fullback Korey Hall, who were knocked out of the last game with calf and knee injuries, respectively.

  • For all that Aaron Rodgers has accomplished in two-plus seasons as a starting quarterback, his selection Wednesday as the NFC Offensive Player of the Week is a first.

    Rodgers accentuated his hot play in the second half of the season by going 21-for-30 for 298 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers. He had a 135.1 passer rating. Rodgers also extended his streak without throwing an interception to 177 pass attempts, a career best that spans the last 5 1/2 games.

    "Aaron's playing at a very high level," McCarthy said. "He's doing an excellent job with his reads and his decision(-making), ball placement."

  • The upcoming game calls to mind the last time rookie running back James Starks played at Detroit's Ford Field.

    Starks had 19 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown to help University at Buffalo win the Mid-American Conference championship game there Dec. 5, 2008. That turned out to be Starks' second-to-last college game -- he missed his senior season in 2009 because of shoulder surgery -- and he didn't have a heavy workload running the football until his pro debut against the 49ers on Sunday.

    Starks, as the No. 2 back in a rotation with Brandon Jackson, gave a favorable first impression with 18 carries for 73 yards.

    McCarthy said it was "definitely the right thing to do" to postpone Starks' indoctrination for NFL game action until Week 13. Starks missed all of the preseason and spent the first half of the season on the physically unable to perform list because of a hamstring strain he originally sustained in a spring workout.

    "I think, physically, he's a gifted young man," McCarthy said. "Hopefully, we're past that (injury)." McCarthy plans to split the halfback duties between Jackson, Starks and possibly rookie Dimitri Nance in the stretch run of the regular season.

  • WR Donald Driver went through the full practice Wednesday and should be fine to make the start against the Lions. Driver suffered a hand injury during the 34-16 win over the 49ers on Sunday, a game in which he had an amazing 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
  • OLB Clay Matthews is on his usual non-practice schedule this week, other than making a cameo for the preliminary jog-through. Matthews continues to nurse a shin injury that stems back nearly six weeks. He hasn't recorded a sack in the last two games and has dropped to No. 2 in the league rankings with 11 1/2.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins, as expected, was ruled out for Sunday's game. Jenkins aggravated a calf injury in the last game, and he may miss the next two weeks. Jenkins is second on the team with a career-high seven sacks.
  • FB Korey Hall won't play Sunday because of a knee sprain that knocked him out of the last game. Hall has been the primary fullback this season, so hybrid John Kuhn and Quinn Johnson will have to pick up the slack as the lead blocker.

  • GAME PLAN: This alleged trap game against a Detroit team with a 2-10 record comes right before the Packers finish the regular season with a potentially grueling trifecta against the Patriots, Giants and Bears. If the Packers are going to make the playoffs, and perhaps overtake the Bears for the NFC North title, they can't slip up Sunday. Green Bay has more often than not won going away in its four previous visits to Ford Field with Mike McCarthy as head coach, so getting out to a big lead early and erasing any optimism the Lions have for trying to spoil the Packers' postseason plans would be advantageous.

    Thanks to zero interceptions for Aaron Rodgers the last five-plus games, the Packers are clicking on offense. Rodgers should be able to pass the football with ease against a patchwork defense that has issues in the secondary. The key will be for the interior linemen to neutralize Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, who has been a beast as a rookie with a team-high eight sacks. As Green Bay tries to build off the momentum from its last game with a running dimension that came to life thanks to a productive pro debut by James Starks, taking the football right up the gut at the penetrating Suh has worked for other teams to counter his speed.

    Defensively, the Packers will see a different quarterback, Drew Stanton, than they did in Week 4 at Lambeau Field, when Shaun Hill's big passing day nearly carried the Lions to an upset victory. Stanton isn't as dangerous throwing the football as Hill is, especially downfield, but Green Bay will be expecting a heavy diet of passes since Detroit can't run the football. Keeping big-play receiver Calvin Johnson, productive tight end Brandon Pettigrew and shifty rookie running back Jahvid Best in check on Stanton's short to intermediate throws is the focal point.

    The wild card for the Lions is the diminutive Stefan Logan, who, at 5-foot-6 has played big on kickoff and punt returns. Look for the Packers to kick the football away from Logan as much as possible.

  • MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Packers WR Greg Jennings vs. Lions defensive backs. Jennings' homecoming trip to his native Michigan couldn't come at a better time. He is the most productive receiver going right now in the league with 43 receptions for 761 yards and eight touchdowns in the last seven games. Jennings rolls into Ford Field riding a three-game streak of 100-yard performances with five TDs. He had just two catches for 25 yards with a touchdown in the teams' early-season meeting at Green Bay. The Lions are short-handed and bad in the secondary, so another huge game from Jennings in front of family and friends from his boyhood and college stomping grounds of Kalamazoo is a good possibility. In four previous trips to Detroit, Jennings had two 100-yard games and three touchdowns.

    Packers linebackers and defensive backs vs. Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew. Calvin Johnson tormented Green Bay with two touchdown catches in Detroit's near-upset at Lambeau Field in Week 4, but Pettigrew had a bigger role in the Lions' passing attack that day. He had a career-high eight receptions for 91 yards against a Packers defense that was without cover LB Brandon Chillar. Green Bay again won't have Chillar, who is on injured reserve, and the Packers are ripe to be exploited by the emerging, athletic and powerful Pettigrew over the middle after they were overmatched against the 49ers' Vernon Davis last time out.

    INJURY IMPACT: The Packers will be down two more starters for Sunday's game with DE Cullen Jenkins (calf) and FB Korey Hall (knee) out indefinitely. Rookie C.J. Wilson, who made two starts earlier in the season, is the likely candidate to replace Jenkins at right end. John Kuhn, who has been an asset as a short-yardage back, and Quinn Johnson figure to split the duties at fullback. ... A couple of veteran starters with new injuries will be closely monitored as the week progresses. CB Charles Woodson suffered an ankle sprain in practice Wednesday. LT Chad Clifton is trying to bounce back from a concussion he sustained in the last game. Woodson has played hurt throughout the season, so it would take a severe sprain to keep him out Sunday against a Lions team he has historically hounded -- seven interceptions, three returned for touchdowns in five seasons with Green Bay. T.J. Lang is the top backup to Clifton. ... The backup trio of CB Pat Lee (ankle) and safeties Atari Bigby (hamstring) and Anthony Smith (ankle) don't appear ready to get back this week.

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