The Detroit Lions (9-6) host the Green Bay Packers (9-6) on Sunday Night Football in what has the makings of an NFC North classic with the division title at stake. The Packers are riding a five-game winning streak heading into tonight’s game and are no strangers to late-season surges in the Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers Era. The team has the opportunity to clinch its seventh straight postseason birth and sixth division title since 2007, going 8-7 in the postseason during that time with a Super Bowl title in 2010.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will try to get the Lions into the postseason with a win tonight and then give the team a chance to win its first playoff game since 1991. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Packers have finished in first or second place in ten of the eleven seasons while McCarthy (113-61-1) has been leading the team, which is mark that includes only one losing season. It certainly has been an era of good feelings for Green Bay fans and McCarthy commented on the meaning of tonight’s game and season stating:
"We feel our season is just getting started. We understand what we need to do to get to this point. This is about beating the Lions."
The NFC North comes down to the last man standing, and the @Packers are dangerous.
Sunday Night is Packers Night! pic.twitter.com/as6xa2okaf
The Lions are seeking their first division title since 1993 and first NFC North Division crown ever; a 23-year old drought that the franchise is hoping will end this season. The Lions have also not won a playoff game since 1991, when they beat the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round 38-6 before losing in the NFC Championship Game against the Washington Redskins.
Those years though are long gone, as the players and coaches have changed and the 2016 NFL season has been remarkably successful. The Lions have found ways to win, manufacturing late game pressure-ridden drives and winning six of their nine games by four or less points. They have also seen two potential playoff opponents on the road in the New York Giants (10-5) and Dallas Cowboys (12-2). The latter being tied for the best record in the league.
The Packers and the Lions have a somewhat fierce rivalry that dates all the way back to 1930 when the Lions were the Portsmouth Spartans. The Lions have struggled to win at Lambeau Field though, with only one win at the field since 1991 allowing the rivalry to become lopsided. In this NFC North, previously named NFC Central, the Packers hold the all-time series lead (97-68-7). The Lions certainly have to feel much better about things tonight with the matchup being played at their home Ford Field. Tonight will be no different as the pressure has mounted on the Lions and their loyal fanbase to get back into the playoffs and deliver a postseason win. Of course the game’s gravity could taper slightly if the Redskins lose against the Giants; something not many are predicting as the Giants will likely rest starters with their #5 seed locked up. That will allow both team’s in this game to have a playoff spot clinched before they even kick off.
This game is about who can play harder, for longer, and the Detroit @Lions like where they stand.
Sunday Night is Lions Night! pic.twitter.com/eybySJpqnV
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) December 30, 2016
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will need to play a significant role in preventing the arch rival Packers from stealing the division after the Lions have been atop the standings since November. The eight-year veteran is the Lions highest paid player on the team with a $22.5 million annual salary. That’s a salary that ranks fifth in the league among quarterbacks. Even after losing his top target Calvin Johnson with a sudden retirement this past offseason, Stafford has continued to put up solid stats with a 95.8 QB rating, 66.3 completion percentage, which are the highest of his career. Expect the Lions all-time leader in passing to exploit Green Bay’s 29th ranked pass defense as he faces a team that’s had his number posting a career record of 3-9 against the Packers.