Detroit Lions (5-7) at Green Bay Packers (7-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa; DirecTV, 710
2004 RANKINGS: Lions: offense 28th (27th rush, 26th pass); defense 21st (21st rush, 21st pass). Packers: offense 4th (10th rush, 3rd pass); defense 27th (9th rush, 30th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Lions' defense won't stand up long against Brett Favre and Co., so Detroit's offense must stay on the field as long as possible. That means improving the league's fifth-worst third-down conversion percentage (29.8). That effort will be led by rookie RB Kevin Jones, who has been increasingly effective in recent weeks. But to actually win the game, QB Joey Harrington will have to be aggressive in attacking a Packers secondary that has allowed 897 yards and seven touchdowns through the air in the past two games. The Packers' offensive balance creates all kinds of problems for the Lions. Look for Green Bay to run wide against Detroit's linebackers to set up deep look for Favre against the Lions' vulnerable secondary.
FAST FACTS: Lions: Jones has 476 rushing yards in the past four games and leads all rookies with 703. ... DE James Hall needs half a sack to become the first Lion with 10.0 in a season since Robert Porcher in 2001. Packers: Lead the series 78-63-7 and have won the past 13 meetings in Wisconsin. ... Opponents have a 101.5 passer rating. The franchise high for a season since 1959 was 85.4 in 1986.
--QB Joey Harrington can probably expect more help from the Lions running game than he's had through most of the season. With the development of rookie RB Kevin Jones (476 yards in the past four games), the weight of carrying the offense no longer falls entirely on Harrington, who has struggled in recent weeks. Harrington had 12 TD passes in the first seven games but only three in the last five.
--RB Kevin Jones, after being slowed by injuries early in the season, is giving the Lions the kind of running they anticipated when they took him with the No. 30 pick in the first round of the draft last April. Jones has rushed for 476 yards in the last four games after gaining just 227 yards in his first seven games. He missed one game with a high ankle sprain.
--WR Roy Williams is one of two rookies the Lions are hoping will give them a boost in their late-season push for an NFC wild card berth. Williams is still not fully recovered from a sprained left ankle he suffered nearly two months ago but his production has picked up the past two weeks with eight catches for 127 yards. Rookie RB Kevin Jones has rushed for 476 yards in the last four games, giving the Lions a more balanced offense.
--CB Fernando Bryant, who suffered a sprained ankle in the Lions' 26-12 victory over Arizona last Sunday, has not practiced this week and it appears unlikely he will play Sunday in the game at Green Bay. CB Chris Cash, who was inactive the past three games, will be active but CB Andre Goodman is likely to get the start in place of Bryant.
--DE James Hall, the Lions' sack leader with 9.5 sacks in 12 games, needs
just two more to surpass his sack total for his previous four years in the NFL.
Hall was signed in 2000 as an undrafted rookie and has had sack totals of 1,
3.5, 2 and 4.5 before having a career-year in 2004, despite playing most of the
season with a broken left thumb.
--LB Na'il Diggs missed another day of practice Thursday and isn't expected to play Sunday in Detroit. He has a bruised kidney. The Packers either will start Paris Lenon at WLB or move SLB Hannibal Navies to WLB and start Nick Rogers at SLB.
--RB James Jackson was released Wednesday. Signed in his place was OLB Steve Josue, who had been on the San Francisco practice squad. He was the Packers' seventh-round draft choice in 2003 from Carson-Newman.
--LB Nick Barnett has been a disappointment as a pass rusher. By unofficial count he has blitzed 97 times in the first 12 games. He has two sacks and precious few pressures. Barnett thinks he is wasted blitzing from the middle. "I come off the edge I don't think there's anyone who can block me, personally," he said. "You have to deal with speed and quickness. I personally think outside I'm better."
--T Kevin Barry missed another day of practice Thursday with a quad injury but remained probable.
--C Grey Ruegamer missed another day of practice Thursday with an ankle
injury but remained probable. The Packers are prepared to start rookie Scott
Wells against the Lions.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Their season-destroying five-game losing streak is behind them but the Lions are probably facing the acid test of their longshot playoff hopes Sunday when they meet the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
It's one thing to beat the Arizona Cardinals and rookie quarterback John
Navarre in the comfort of their own Ford Field, but it will be a completely
different story in Green Bay.
For openers, they will be playing outside, in what is forecast to be 38-degree temperatures with strong winds and snow showers. Not ideal conditions for a dome team.
Secondly, the Lions are facing a team they haven't beaten on the road since Dec. 15, 1991. They have lost the last 13 games they have played on Wisconsin soil - 10 at Lambeau Field (including a playoff game) and three at Milwaukee County Stadium.
The players and coach Steve Mariucci are approaching the streak with the attitude that this is a new team, a team that has had no part of anything that has happened over the past 12 years.
And they are approaching the game - despite their 5-7 record - as a game they need to keep alive their sparse playoff hopes.
"Last week I actually showed them the standings ... just to show them how crazy it is," coach Steve Mariucci said. "But, yet, we're still in it."
Mariucci said he hasn't brought out the standings this week but assumes they are seeing enough of it on ESPN to know they are still alive in the NFC wild card chase and cannot afford another loss.
"I think our team is well aware of the implications of the next games.
Obviously you take them one at a time, this one being the most important but
we're only two games out of the division lead and only one game out of the wild
Quarterback Brett Favre can't go through the chemotherapy treatments that his wife Deanne is undergoing, but as a tribute to her he has had his hair cut into a crewcut.
Deanna Favre began chemotherapy for breast cancer about three weeks ago.
"It's a little bit shorter," said Favre, who revealed his new look Wednesday. "I'm gradually cutting it down so I can be like my wife. I had to ease into it."
His wife underwent a lumpectomy in October and the prognosis for her recovery is good, but she will need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments for several months.
Given that most chemo patients lose their hair, Favre figured that she shouldn't have to go it alone.
"She'll look a hell of a lot better than me without hair, but maybe that will make her feel better," Favre said. "I don't know. She has to do it, there's no choice. But just whatever support I can give her."
Favre said his wife is handling the situation the best that she can.
"She's up and down," he said. "She's hanging in there probably much better than I would. She has her moments."