The Detroit Lions are set to take on the Green Bay Packers in a very important NFC North matchup on Thursday Night Football. Detroit (6-5) leads the division, but has a loss to the Packers on its record already, falling at Lambeau in Week 5, 22-9. Green Bay (5-5-1) hasn't won a game since Aaron Rodgers was injured, and played to a frustrating tie against the then-2-8 Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
The first time these two teams met this season, the Packers had Rodgers, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. But the Lions didn't have either of their top two receivers in Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, the former of which is notable as the best receiver in the NFL.
Things are much different for both teams this time around. Let's take a closer look, starting with the home team:
Meet the Lions
As noted above, the Lions were without Johnson and Burleson in that first matchup. Johnson was dealing with a minor injury, while Burleson was dealing with, and is still recovering from a fractured arm. Johnson is the best wide receiver in football, and has 66 receptions for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. He leads all NFL receivers despite the fact that he missed time this season.
The Lions love to throw the ball, and they do it well. Detroit boasts the No. 3 passing offense in the NFL at 308.4 passing yards per game on average, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Unfortunately, the Lions have lost their past two games, falling to bad teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay was 2-8 heading into that game, and Pittsburgh wasn't much better. The Lions have lost to some bad teams this year, but can't afford to fall against the Packers when they have such a big opportunity with Rodgers absent.
Meet the Packers
This game could easily be the most important the Packers play this season. Unfortunately, Rodgers' injury has coincided with three divisional games, counting this one. The Packers fell to the Chicago Bears in Week 9 and tied the Vikings in Week 12, all with Scott Tolzien or Matt Flynn at the helm.
Rodgers is likely to return from his collarbone injury soon, but that's not likely to happen against the Lions. Instead, it seems as though Flynn will get the call. Flynn is a recent signing who entered Sunday's game against the Vikings as the backup to Tolzien, who has struggled. Tolzien was benched after completing just seven passes with no touchdowns or interceptions. Flynn completed 21 of 36 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in relief.
Green Bay will likely have to rely on rookie running back Eddie Lacy again. He's led them to the No. five rushing offense in the league at 139.9 yards per game on average. Lacy has197 carries for 806 yards and six touchdowns as the starter. Unfortunately, the Lions have a strong rush defense, allowing just 88.0 rushing yards per game on average.
Local Takes: Lions
Sean Yuille of Pride of Detroit thinks a reason for optimism is the fact that Green Bay has struggled without Rodgers:
The Packers haven't won a game since Aaron Rodgers got hurt. They lost three in a row before tying the Vikings at home on Sunday. Rodgers is unlikely to play on Thanksgiving, and the Packers' problems go beyond simply not having their quarterback anyway. They've allowed at least 26 points in each of their last five games, which is not a good sign for their defense. The Lions should be able to put up some points on Thanksgiving.
Local Takes: Packers
Evan Western of Acme Packing Company notes that, while Flynn wasn't amazing, the Packers were better off when he took over against the Vikings, so they should be better off when they face Detroit:
Putting Flynn in this category is by no means a comment on his future success, or even the state of his elbow. However, when Scott Tolzien was benched for general ineffectiveness, Flynn took over a struggling offense and immediately showed his understanding of the scheme as he audibled on his first two plays. It wasn't anything in particular that Flynn did that earns him this game ball, but it was the general calm and command of the huddle that he displayed, especially in the fourth quarter, that earns him some recognition.
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All six of SB Nation's NFL experts picked the Lions to win this one. That panel of experts consists of Ryan Van Bibber, Joel Thorman, Jason Chilton, Stephen White, David Fucillo and Matt Ufford.
Detroit opened up as 3.5-point favorites for the matchup, though the line has moved considerably in their favor. They could be had favored by as much as 7 points mid-week, according to OddsShark.