The Green Bay resurgence is no fluke, and is set to continue, with Detroit about to become their latest victims. Neil Harvey breaks down the final action of the NFL regular season...
"Detroit's offense has scored an average of just 18 points over their last five games, and that's simply not enough to keep pace with the in-form Packers who've scored on average 34 points during the same period."
Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions
There are just two words needed to explain which team I think wins this game - Clay Matthews.
Green Bay have been on a barnstorming run of form over the last two months, registering five straight victories over some tough opponents. Pundits and fans have been at a loss to explain the sudden reversal in fortune for a Packers side that prior to that had suffered four defeats in a row, the last couple of which they lost heavily - by an average of 20 points.
Now that Green Bay are winning again, there are all sorts of explanations being put forward as to what's changed. Aaron Rodgers upped his game tends to be the most popular conspiracy theory. Perhaps he'd not been trying for the first half of the season? Wide receiver Davante Adams suddenly came of age, is another theory. Adams too had been just coasting through the first half of the campaign, they'll have us believe.
I do agree that the Green Bay revival is based on one man. But for me he's not an offensive player. He's the Packers' defensive captain - Clay Matthews. He's the glue that holds his team's defense together. The voice of authority that organises them at the line of scrimmage. The guy who calls audible changes to Green Bay's formation, based on how he sees the opposing offense lining up. On top of that, he's also one hell of a player - a Super Bowl winning, six-time Pro-Bowler to be precise.
Matthews was out injured from Weeks eight through ten. The Packers lost all three games without him. He returned in Week 11, and then in Week 12 Green Bay set off on their five game winning streak. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think not. In the games he missed, the Packers conceded an average of 37 points per game. Since his return, that figure's dropped to 21.
Better defense has taken some of the pressure of Green Bay's offense. Instead of having to force aggressive plays just to play catch-up, they've been able to play more naturally. Consequently, that's produced an uptick in the performance of Aaron Rodgers, whose quarterback rating has risen from 97 through the first 10 weeks, to 119 since the return of Matthews. And a less pressured Rodgers has had the knock-on effect of more and better quality targets for Davante Adams. With four TDs in his last five outings, Adams has become the go-to guy for Rodgers, with teammate Randall Cobb increasingly looking a man on the way out.
Ty Montgomery has re-established himself as Green Bay's main rusher. But while he's performed admirably, especially for a stand-in, don't expect anything too much from him here. Green Bay are at heart a passing team. And Detroit's defense is especially vulnerable to the pass, giving up 21 aerial TDs - that's the fourth highest in the NFL. So look to Adams, and deep-ball specialist Jordy Nelson as the players most likely to hit pay dirt for the road team.
For the home team, a lot's been said about Matthew Stafford throwing the ball more under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. But that's simply not true. Stafford's actually on course to throw fewer attempted passes and fewer completions than last season. In fact, if anything, the Cooter effect has been a negative one, with Stafford throwing only 22 touchdowns this season compared to 32 the last.
The reason for that has been Detroit's game plan of throwing a lot of short passes to the running back. This has caught a lot of teams on the hop, with first Theo Riddick, prior to injury, and more lately Zach Zenner being the beneficiaries. Neither of these lightweight scamperers proved able to score many TDs though. Instead Stafford shoulders almost all the burden here, having thrown 22 of his team's 30 offensive touchdowns.
In theory, Stafford should be able to put up healthy numbers against a Packers defense that's conceded 8.0 yards per completion. But that might not translate into touchdowns. And the lack of a genuine running threat makes the Lions all too predictable for Matthews and the Packers linebackers. Detroit's offense has scored an average of just 18 points over their last five games, and that's simply not enough to keep pace with the in-form Packers who've scored on average 34 points during the same period. Nowhere near enough. So it's Green Bay to win, no contest.
5pts Green Bay to beat Detroit @ 1.608/13
5pts Green Bay (-1.5) to win at half time @ 1.9620/21
3pts Detroit Lions Points Under 23.5 @ 10/11
2pts Jordy Nelson to score 1st touchdown @ 8/1
2pts Jordy Nelson to score anytime touchdown @ 5/6
3pts Stafford passing yards to be Over 283.5 @ 5/6