Packers Sharpen Focus on Detroit

There's little margin for error for the Packers as they make their push to the playoffs and no reason to look past a team that Mike McCarthy is 9-0 against.

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.

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 next Sunday night 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."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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