Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers
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A-Rod to find his A-game in the Primetime spotlight
Since the early Vegas handicap line was chalked up for this primetime showdown for leading honours in the NFC North, the tide of money has shifted towards the Detroit Lions over the intervening week. However, the conventional wisdom of such late-night encounters in the national MNF spotlight strongly suggests that the Green Bay Packers will emerge comfortable victors here - especially with their Air Marshal Aaron Rodgers regaining full health under center. And it's hard to disagree with the annals of history: when it matters most, the A-Rod and his oval buddy invariably find a way at historic Lambeau field.
There was a suspicion earlier in the season that Rodgers was playing injured, but the mounting testimony suggests he is improving with every passing week, in stark contrast to the 2011 and 2017 seasons where a succession of niggles and scrapes to No.12 stuck an untimely fork in the Cheeseheads' Super Bowl ambitions. Maybe this year will prove something of a role reversal.
After all, for all the continuity that supposedly was ensured by the long tenure of Lambeau Field's former holy trinity of custodians - QB Rodgers, head coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson - it had become a stark reality that Green Bay hadn't lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy since 2010. And regardless of the particular problems of personnel in any given roster, the Pack were singularly failing in the key column of team cohesion (ranking near the top of the league for penalties and turnovers). There's no stat for that. But something had to give this term, and it was McCarthy's head that rolled, handing the reins to rookie head Matt LaFleur. The early signs (4-1) certainly look promising.
Not only about A-Rod
In other encouraging news, running man Aaron Jones has rebounded from some disciplinary action last term to foster a better balance on offense. He pounded the pitch for four touchdowns in the Packers' statement road win against Dallas, amassing 182 yards from scrimmage (107 rushing, 75 receiving). Jones is quietly becoming a versatile twin threat, while a solid if unspectacular receiving crew (look to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, and seasoned tight end Jimmy Graham) can do enough at home until their leader Davante Adams returns from a toe injury.
All of which means it will be up to Matthew Stafford and his offense to keep up with Rodgers & Co. Set to become only the 21st quarterback in league history to surpass the 40,000-yard mark, Stafford would also become the fastest to achieve the feat. This 31-year-old can certainly bustle up the big boys, even if he no longer has the likes of Calvin Johnson at his disposal.
He's already proved as much over the current campaign, averaging a wafer over a whopping 280 passing yards per game, while throwing nine touchdowns for just two picks. It's staggering stuff, even in a free-throwing-for-all era. That said, although the Lions have also only lost one match so far, Stafford has a habit of losing his head in rival lions' dens, particularly when he's up against a raucous packed house and is chasing the score. I can see a similar scenario unfolding tonight, and the inevitable misfires could creep back into the arm of this gunslinger.
Of course, it's not as if Rodgers is any less prone to rolling the dice. However, it's well to remember that on these Monday-night match-ups, the moustachioed maverick has thrown for 300+ yards and secured a Passer Rating north of 100 in four consecutive starts, the longest streak going. Staying undefeated at their storied stronghold is key, so I'm backing the Packers to claim this pivotal divisional head-to-head and retain prime postseason position.
After all, Air Marshal Rodgers has made a career out of keeping his troops alive when the big-game bullets start to fly.