Bill: Both coaches say they intend to play to win the game, though for Green Bay, I'm not so sure about that and perhaps coach Mike McCarthy just expects his backups to be good enough. Do you expect the Lions' front-line players to play all 60 minutes? After all, the difference between the No. 6 seed (trip to San Francisco or New Orleans) and No. 5 seed (trip to the mediocre NFC East champion) is substantial.
Nate: I think there's just enough elements going into Sunday's game to keep the Lions intent on winning it. The team feels it can compete with whomever it plays, and acknowledges that regardless of how you slice it, it will have to play a top-tier club should it win in the first round. Coach Jim Schwartz is more concerned with entering the postseason with momentum, and as Green Bay fans and players can attest, that might have more importance than snapping the historic losing streak at Lambeau or dictating a first-round opponent.
Bill: In other years, Matthew Stafford might be getting some MVP love. After two injury-ruined years, he's really been tremendous. What can you tell us about his growth this season?
Nate: Although his numbers have surprised some, especially in the national media, I don't think anyone locally -- let alone on Detroit's coaching staff -- ever thought Stafford would be anything other than a really special player.
Although injury-riddled his first two seasons, he showed flashes of brilliance. He also was overshadowed by two other QBs in his draft class (despite being the No. 1 overall pick), Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman, but I think it's fairly obvious that Stafford is categorically superior to either of those two, and most other signal-callers in the league (Eli Manning's nod over Stafford was indicative of the popularity contest that is the Pro Bowl).
The better news is that Stafford is only 23 and is approaching just his 30th game as an NFL starter -- which is right about the time the game starts slowing down for young quarterbacks. Given his success to this point, and the many failures before him, Lions fans can finally bask in the glow that is a bright future at the position.
Bill: These Lions kind of remind me of those early Brett Favre Packers teams, in which the whole offense rested on the quarterback's shoulders. How have the Lions won games with essentially no running game?
Nate: Although Stafford has been terrific, credit must be paid to Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who has been crafty in developing a game plan that looks to create other avenues for production in absence of a run threat.
Linehan, known for his extensive use of tight ends, has employed that tactic with great success -- Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are having career years. Also, the presence of Calvin Johnson forces the deep safety to acknowledge him every time he is on the field, which allows other weapons in Stafford's arsenal to become viable.
Bill: I figure Detroit wins this game if it's Lions starters against Packers backups for most of the game. Potentially, the Lions would come back here for the divisional round. If it's starters vs. starters in the January cold, do the Lions have what it takes?
Nate: It depends entirely on what Detroit squad shows up. The Lions have shown the ability to completely self-destruct in losses (at Chicago, Green Bay, at New Orleans) and actually did the same (at Minnesota, Dallas, Carolina) in a few of their come-from-behind wins. Yet this is the same ball club that laid the wood to Tim Tebow and the Broncos on the road and the near-perfect drilling of San Diego.
To be honest, I think the Lions match up with any team, anywhere, and that includes Green Bay. However, you have to leave room for that penchant to shoot themselves in the foot; they've gotten away with it against lesser teams, something more potent ball clubs will take advantage of in the playoffs.
Bill: The Lions obviously have a ton of talent but, come playoff time, they're going to have to be disciplined to win one or more games. What have you seen after some undisciplined play against the Packers and Saints? Nate: After the team's Sunday night implosion against New Orleans (this came embarrassingly after the Thanksgiving Day debacle), Schwartz threatened a team-imposed suspension if any of his players put themselves above the squad. Since that time, the team has been squeaky clean.
The interesting thing is, if not for bonehead personal fouls against the Packers and Saints, Detroit was in both of those games. I just think they're a young, talented and thus cocky team, and they didn't handle the initial stages of success very well. If they can continue the disciplined play, especially in light of Saturday's dismissal of Philip Rivers and the Chargers, they'll make things interesting.