With rare exceptions, the test of a team's title ambitions in the old black-and-blue division since the mid-1990s has been its ability to compete with the Green Bay Packers.
Since the Packers captured the NFC Central title with an 11-5 record in 1995, they have been the team to beat, so it's a rare reversal of form to see the Lions testing their 3-1 record against the Packers, who are 1-4.
But that's the matchup the NFL schedule-maker arranged for Sunday at Ford Field and Lions coach Steve Mariucci isn't taking anything for granted, even after watching the Packers being pummeled by the Tennessee Titans 48-27 in the Monday night game.
"As we stay in coaching for a long time, we go through this," Mariucci said. "Teams go through this, coaches go through this, players go through this where there are some ups and downs.
"You find out what kind of resiliency your team has to rebound after some tough losses, and I know the character of their team is very good. The organization is very competent, so we've got to be prepared for their best game."
The Lions' 3-1 start is their best since the 2000 season and matches their best since the 1991 Lions lost the first game, then rattled off five consecutive wins on the way to the NFC title game under Wayne Fontes.
And, while the current team is playing with confidence, it is also playing with a number of injuries to key players that will keep it from performing at peak efficiency.
It is particularly concerning to the Lions that they might be without the two rookies they expected to give their offense a big boost in 2004 -- wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones.
Jones suffered a high ankle sprain in the Sept. 26 game against Philadelphia, and it appears unlikely he will play against the Packers; Williams suffered a less serious ankle sprain Sunday at Atlanta and is believed to have a chance to play.
With or without their two rookie playmakers, the Lions know from previous experience Green Bay will be stinging from its slow start. And if they're going to be a factor in the NFC North race, this is a game they need to win.
SERIES HISTORY: 142d meeting of the Lions and Packers in the NFL's longest uninterrupted rivalry, dating to 1934. The Packers lead the series 74-61-6 and have won six of the last seven games, but the Lions are 39-31-3 against them at home and upset them 22-14 in the last meeting on Thanksgiving Day 2003.
Lions Will Face Desperate Packers Team
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