All but two playoff spots have been filled on the road to the postseason. One way or another, those final two openings in the NFC will be filled depending on what happens in the Sunday night finale of the regular season as Green Bay visits Detroit. The winner takes the NFC North Division title with at least one home playoff game assured, while the loser could miss the postseason entirely. The Packers are slight road favourites on Sports Interaction’s NFL odds.
Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions
Point spread: Packers -3
Date: Sunday, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Ford Field, Detroit
Green Bay Packers
The most important game to both the Packers and Lions is a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins in Maryland. The Redskins are more than touchdown favourites there because they will clinch the NFC’s final wild-card spot with a victory. In addition, New York is locked into the No. 5 seed regardless and thus is likely to rest its starters. So if Washington does win, the Green Bay-Detroit loser is out of the playoffs.
The Packers (9-6) can’t get higher than the NFC’s No. 3 seed, which they would take with a victory and a San Francisco home upset of Seattle earlier Sunday. But the 49ers are terrible and nearly double-digit underdogs so it’s likely Green Bay would be the No. 4 with a victory and open the playoffs on wild-card weekend at home against the Giants.
Green Bay brings a five-game winning streak into this one, the longest current run in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers told Packers backers not to worry when his team was 4-6 and had lost four in a row, and Rodgers has backed that up by throwing 11 TDs and no interceptions during this streak. He’s back in the NFL MVP conversation, although my guess is the Patriots’ Tom Brady wins it. In Week 16, Rodgers threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-25 win over Minnesota and also rushed for a score. Jordy Nelson caught nine of his passes for 154 yards and two scores. He leads the NFL with 14 TD catches after missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL. Fellow starting receiver Randall Cobb was scratched with an ankle injury but is hopeful to play in Detroit.
I assure you that no team wants to play the Packers in the postseason right now. This is the second straight year they play in a winner-take-all NFC North title game. Last season, the Pack were upset at home by Minnesota and had to settle for a wild-card spot. Green Bay is 8-6-1 against the spread this season and 3-4 ATS on the road.
The Lions (9-6) haven’t won a division title or hosted a playoff game since 1993 so this would be a big deal for a franchise that has never played in a Super Bowl. In a year when the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series, anything can happen. Maybe it’s the Lions’ turn.
Detroit could get as high as the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a victory. The Lions would have to have New Orleans win at NFC South champion Atlanta and the 49ers upset the Seahawks for that first-round playoff bye. I believe both Atlanta and Seattle win, so the Lions would then be the No. 4 seed with a victory and host the Giants next weekend.
Matthew Stafford and Co. are not playing their best football right now. Stafford dislocated the middle finger on his throwing hand and also tore ligaments in that finger in a Week 14 comeback win over Chicago. He hasn’t looked nearly as sharp in the past two games, a 17-6 loss at the Giants in Week 15 and then a 42-21 loss in Dallas on Monday night. Stafford has no TD passes and two picks combined in those losses and has really taken a physical beating with the offensive line struggling to protect him. The defense had a streak of eight straight games allowing 20 points or fewer snapped in Dallas. Top cornerback Darius Slay missed it with a hamstring injury and is hopeful of going vs. Green Bay.
The schedule-makers did the Lions no favors as the Packers played Week 16 early Saturday afternoon and Detroit is on the short week after Monday night’s game. The Lions are 8-7 ATS this season and 5-2 ATS at home.
Packers vs. Lions Predictions
Green Bay beat visiting Detroit 34-27 in Week 3 and it really wasn’t that close as the Packers led 31-3 late in the second quarter. Rodgers threw for 205 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the first half to Nelson. Stafford passed for 385 yards and three scores for the Lions to make things interesting late. Marvin Jones had a career game with six catches for 205 yards and two TDs.
If Stafford were 100 percent, I’d likely take the points here. But he’s clearly not and the Lions are also banged up at running back. Rodgers knows how to win big games like this, while Stafford doesn’t. But to be safe, take the 2.5-point alternate line when backing Green Bay. The favourite is 8-1 ATS in the past nine meetings. Go under the total.