The Green Bay Packers, with Aaron Rodgers leading their offense, at Lambeau Field on a crisp and clear fall night with temperatures in the low 40’s. All the makings of a great primetime National Football League matchup.
But then, the Detroit Lions show up.
This is a team that has a tradition of hosting the Thanksgiving game that goes back to before World War II, and there were rumblings a few years ago, threatening to take the holiday game away from Detroit because they were so bad for so long. One of only two NFL teams to lose all games during a 16 game season, the Lions lost all their games in 2008 and the Cleveland Browns matched that low point with a winless campaign in 2017. This is not what the NFL wanted to feature as part of their holiday football feast.
But, these are not those Lions. The 2019 Lions have the look of a playoff team, and the door might open while they battle three highly regarded NFC North Division opponents, the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears in addition to tonight’s opponent.
How could the Lions survive against those three teams that are considered by most to be better than Detroit? First, the Packers may not be as good as their 4-1 season mark would indicate. They are under the direction of first-year head coach Brian LaFleur, who may have a bright future but has inherited a team that wouldn’t be among the strongest his predecessor, Mike McCarthy, coached.
The Bears could trip up this year based on four straight last place finishes before last year’s division win. Most often, a breakthrough campaign like the one enjoyed last year by the Bears, is followed by a down year before expectations and talent get back into alignment. The Vikings are very talented, but if they are to win the division they need quarterback Kirk Cousins to step up his performances against teams with winning records.
He has lost in both those situations this year, to the Packers in second week action and the Bears two weeks ago at Soldier Field. His lifetime mark against teams with a winning record now stands at 5 wins and 24 losses. The Vikings are going to have to meet some teams with winning records before they are crowned division champs, which bodes well for the Lions chances.
While every preseason prediction sheet on the NFC North had the Lions finishing last, I’m flipping that in their favor. They have shown me through their play that they can win, or at least not lose, in a tough situation. For example, on opening day they were a bet-on road favorite at Arizona, and had the Cardinals down 24-6 in the fourth quarter.
Then, overconfidence and a feisty rookie quarterback, Kyler Murray, led the Cardinals back to an improbable overtime tie, 27-27. Some saw that as more evidence the Lions are still no good, but I saw a team able to overcome strong factors against them and still avoid a loss when they got run down.
In second week action, the Lions beat the Los Angeles Chargers and followed that win with a road triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles. A narrow home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs followed, and they have had two weeks to prepare for tonight’s contest while enjoying their Week Five bye week.
Now, if all this positive press is to come to fruition, it would require the Lions to upset the Packers on their home field in a primetime contest. If they do, then their 3-1-1 record would vault them to the top of their division over Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago.
Hefty stuff, but by my numbers, perfectly logical.
Qoxhi Picks: Detroit Lions (+3½) over Green Bay Packers