Tonight’s Thursday night matchup is a rare one in which both teams have had a full week to get ready for. Having both played on Thanksgiving, the Packers go on the road to take on a Lions team that has been on a nice little win streak lately. With the way these teams are playing of late, this could end up being a very telling game for the state of both franchises in the 2015 season.
After a showing against the Vikings that showed progress, the Packers passing game once again struggled this past week against the Bears. While many are quick to blame Aaron Rodgers, this is not all his doing. Chances are analysts/fans both underestimated how much Jordy Nelson truly means to the offense and also assumed anyone starting at wideout for Rodgers could put up numbers. As we’ve seen, that’s not necessarily the case.
The good news for the Packers is that Eddie Lacy is starting to get things going. Lacy has run for over 100 yards in each of his past two games and should see around 20 to 25 touches tonight. Despite that, James Starks still figures to be a presence as he has managed to see more than a handful of touches in each of the past two. With a struggling passing game, it could come down to the combination of Lacy and Starks to really get things going for the Packers offensively tonight.
Randall Cobb has put up some numbers, but he is much more dangerous with others around him compared to being the de facto number one receiver. He will get his fair share of looks in what should be a favorable matchup in the slot, but it’s worth noting the Lions pass defense as a whole has been much improved in recent weeks. Davante Adams has been talked about frequently but unfortunately it hasn’t been positive. Adams has struggled with drops these past few weeks, but he should continue seeing targets despite his recent catch rate being very alarming. After starting the year red hot, James Jones has cooled off significantly. Things don’t get any easier this week as he figures to see plenty of Darius Slay who is playing extremely well of late which includes shutting Jones out of the stat sheet in week ten.
Much has been talked about for the Lions and their offensive balance running the ball of late, but that could be that they are simply just playing with the lead more. If you aren’t in comeback mode, it just isn’t a necessity to throw every play. The other benefit for the Lions is since simplifying their blocking schemes, they’ve been much more effective in protecting Matthew Stafford. In his three games since the bye with new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, Stafford has thrown for over 850 yards and seven touchdowns to just one interception. That includes last Thursday’s performance which was arguably the best of his career to date. In a dome with a running game that hasn’t been extremely effective, Stafford will probably throw 40 plus times in this one.
In recent weeks, Ameer Abdullah has gotten more touches and that should continue tonight. Abdullah is the Lions best all around option at running back and while he hasn’t shown it yet (or been very involved as a receiver) displays big play ability. Theo Reddick doesn’t get many carries, but he leads all running backs in receptions and has proven to be a very valuable asset to the passing game. For those in points per reception leagues, Reddick might be the Lions running back to consider tonight. Joique Bell rounds out the running back trio and while he has improved on a dismal start to the year, he may be hard pressed to earn a lot of touches in this one as last time these teams faced off the Lions struggled mightily on the ground.
Despite playing with an ankle injury, Calvin Johnson is still very much the player we’ve become accustomed to watching over the years. After seeing how the Eagles played him last week, it would be hard to believe the Packers would risk leaving him in single coverage very frequently. If the Packers do decide to take that chance, Johnson could be in for another nice night. Golden Tate has gotten more involved in recent weeks but while he has the ability to make plays down the field, he’s currently being used more on underneath routes. For fantasy purposes, there is a decent floor for Tate, but the ceiling doesn’t appear to be too high with Johnson healthy.
With their recent struggles covering tight ends, this matchup actually sets up quite well for Eric Ebron. While he has improved from last year, Ebron still has been very inconsistent and players such as Tate have seen bigger roles since Cooter has called the plays because of it. His stats tonight could be anywhere from a 80 yards and a touchdown to a goose egg with not much in between.
Despite the Lions improvement and the Packers inconsistency, I still have a hard time picking against Rodgers regardless of the circumstances. With the possibility of being two games back in the division, this is huge for the Packers as I’m guessing they pull off the road win in what should be a very closely contested contest. My prediction is Packers 23 Lions (+3.5) 20.