Bill: The Packers have never seen a healthy Matthew Stafford. So, tell us, what kind of quarterback will the Packers be facing on Thursday? Is he an elite quarterback? Beyond the physical tools, does he have the mental makeup to lead the Lions into the playoffs and beyond?
Nate: I think that Stafford remains a maturing quarterback, but from all indications, he either possesses the mental makeup or he's well on his way. After his epic performance against Cleveland as a rookie, and two come-from-behind wins this season (both on the road), the former top pick clearly has the "it" factor.
However, during the team's two-game home skid and loss at Chicago, many questioned Stafford's confidence and demeanor -- and then questioned his integrity after playing so poorly with gloves. He responded with a five-touchdown effort against the Panthers. Nate Burleson said Stafford was winking at players in the huddle. I think the bottom line comes down to two things: Stafford has led Detroit to a 7-3 record and is among the highest performing QBs in the league, and he's only 23. He has command of the offense and the respect of his teammates -- everything else seems rather immaterial in comparison.
Bill: Let's cut to the chase: Are the Lions a dirty team? The highlights lend that impression, but highlights don't necessarily tell the story? Regardless, what say the Lions when that topic comes up?
Nate: The Lions don't consider themselves dirty, and it's really a perception that's been propped up by a media that is intent to sell good vs. evil. Isn't it ironic that it's OK for the media to gleefully discuss the dirty play that everyone knows occurs during a scramble for the football, while vilifying a player for slamming another to the turf? Most accounts by former players testify the Lions are aggressive, but certainly not dirty. I think Jim Schwartz said it best: "It's better than the alternative -- meekest, least aggressive, softest team in the NFL."
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The signing of Kevin Smith from the trash heap was truly a diamond in the rough for the squad. Smith couldn't get a sniff before working out for the team two weeks ago, and he's been downright explosive since returning. There was even a report that -- on a surgically repaired knee -- he recorded a faster 40 time than he did during the NFL Combine four years ago. Against Carolina, he ran through and around tacklers, and was dangerous as a receiver. He's been a welcome addition, certainly, but whether he is sustainable week-in and week-out remains to be seen.
Bill: Calvin Johnson has killed the Packers over the years. So, we know all about the challenge of stopping such a big and graceful athlete. Who are the other pieces to the puzzle for one of the NFL's most explosive teams?
Nate: Johnson is surrounded by weapons, and that includes veteran WR Nate Burleson 41 catches, 391 yards, 9.5 average, two touchdowns) and explosive rookie Titus Young (28-363, 13.0, two touchdowns), and each has had an impact. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan likes to utilize tight ends, and Brandon Pettigrew (50-435, 8.7, three TDs) and Tony Scheffler (14-177, 12.6, four TDs) have made life difficult for linebackers all season. Each of the players listed above were on the receiving end of a Stafford touchdown pass against Carolina -- except for Johnson. If teams roll too much coverage to Johnson, the Lions have proven they will make them pay.
Bill: The Lions' back seven isn't exactly filled with big names. Jeff Backus looks like he's hit the end of the line at left tackle, though he's gone three consecutive games without allowing a sack. They can't play a complete game to save their lives. So, why will the Lions win this game?
Nate: You nailed it. If the Lions have any intention of winning on Thursday, they need to play their first complete game of the season against a quality opponent. If they turn the ball over multiple times early in the game as they have in their last two contests, this thing will be over by halftime. But if they're able to put it together for four consecutive quarters, the Packers will find themselves in a battle.