The Pro Football Notebook

December 11, 2010 6:13 AM

Is Detroit A Live Dog?

PackersLions.jpgIf you were looking for an upset spot on Sunday, a place to start your search might be Ford Field in Detroit, where the Lions host the Packers. You have a home team that plays everyone down to the wire--Detroit should've beaten Chicago last week, they should've beaten Green Bay on the road earlier in the season, they should've beaten the Jets, and they hung with New England for three quarters. You have a road team that has every reason to be looking ahead--the Packers finish with a brutal stretch of the Patriots, Giants and Bears to close the season. Mike McCarthy's team could be forgiven if they got caught peeking around the corner. But the NFL is inherently unforgiving and they could get beat in this spot. 

Detroit is doing a good job at bringing the pressure right now out of their front four. Cliff Avril had three sacks last week from his defensive end position. Kyle Vanden Bosh is solid at the other end, and rookie tackle Ndamakong Suh is a monster in the middle. The Lions can get heat on Aaron Rodgers without having to blitz, a goldmine for a defensive coordinator. Now in previewing this game, perhaps I should find a few reasons the Packers might win too, giving they're 8-4 while the hosts are 2-10. Green Bay's pass protection has done a nice job in developing as the season goes along and Rodgers seems to be in synch with his receivers right now after an early part of the schedule where they looked on different pages. The Packers interior defense, led by linebacker A.J. Hawk, matches up well with the Lion's interior run game. With Detroit still being stuck with third-string quarterback Drew Stanton, scoring points won't be easy to come by.

So are we looking at an upset special here? I think we're looking at a hair-raising finish, and if I had a dime in Vegas earlier in the week I'd have grabbed the Lions at (+7), where the line opened. But there's three things working in Green Bay's favor down the stretch. The first is that Detroit has mastered the art of beating themselves. It's scary if you're an opponent, because that isn't something you can control, and they stop it, they could rip off a win streak to end the year. But December 12 is too late a date to think it will change this season. The last two reasons are named Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. Playmakers come up big in desperate times. The Pack will face desperate times tomorrow, but ultimately prevail 27-24.

A Green Bay win would keep the pressure on frontrunning Chicago, who hosts New England. Another team looking to keep the heat on in that game is the Jets, who try to rebound after that 45-3 thrashing the Patriots hung on them Monday night. New York hosts Miami. Rex Ryan got some attention this week (imagine that) when he led his players in a ceremony burying the ball from Monday night's disaster. It may sound trite, but I like it and think this is an area where Ryan's bombastic nature works in his favor. He's not going to back down and neither is his team. Miami's playing good defense right now and Cameron Wake will be in the face of Mark Sanchez, But the Dolphin offense is too turnover-prone right now, with Chad Henne having tossed three picks in another hard loss to Cleveland last week. The Dolphins will stay in the game, but the Jets will return to their pre-New England habit of pulling out close games. This one ends 20-16.


Stopping in on the AFC North, Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati. The Bengals showed surprising fight last week in nearly beating New Orleans, so the Steelers could be in a trap spot here as they come off an emotional win in Baltimore last Sunday night. However that same art of losing that Detroit has down so well has been taken to an art form by Cincinnati. With Pittsburgh playing at home, they might be a little sluggish, but they won't actually get beat. And Cleveland visits Buffalo, a battle of two teams that have earned respect for their ability to keep games close against contenders. In the case of the Browns, last week's win over Miami showed their starting to take the next step and finish the job. This is a live dog that plays both Baltimore and Pittsburgh during the final three weeks and is ready to impact the AFC North race as a spoiler. Behind the running of Peyton Hillis, they get warmed up for that by winning in Buffalo.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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