The 8-4 Green Bay Packers are a touchdown favorite this Sunday night as the 4-8 Detroit Lions invade legendary Lambeau Field in an attempt to salvage their season. Conditions have certainly been worse at Lambeau in past battles, but the Lions will definitely face an uphill battle on what is expected to be a cold night in Green Bay.
The Packers of course have a very rich history, with the great Vince Lombardi standing at the top of the heap with his incredible teams from the 60s. The video above relives the story of the legendary “Ice Bowl” championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys from New Year’s Eve in 1967 at a frozen Lambeau Field with windchill taking the temperature down to −70°F. We’ve all heard the “frozen tundra” line a million times and this is where it all started. The Packers has plenty of down years after that, but then returned to greatness with Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre in the 90s and then again several years ago with Aaron Rodgers.
So the Lions will have to deal with much more than their own problems Sunday night. They’ll be on the road in cold weather facing a tough Packer team and all the mystique of Lambeau Field as well. Perhaps that doesn’t mean to much to the players on the field, but this stadium has its reputation for a reason. It’s hard to win there. There’s also this nugget – the Lions have lost 20 consecutive games in Green Bay. You can bet they’ll be hearing about that all week. It can either motivate them or contribute to another loss.
The Packers have their own problems, as they can’t seem to generate a running game. Their once-dominant passing game can get derailed when the opposing defense can key on the pass rush, and with Ndamukong Suh leading the charge, the Packers need to make sure Rodgers stays on his feet. He has been sacked a league-leading 39 times and the offensive line is banged up. They’re hoping that the signing of running back Ryan Grant can help.
Suh has also had some issues, as usual, and some argue he’s becoming a distraction for a Lions team that has had a very disappointing season with only four wins. The Lions had big expectations this season, and Matthew Stafford is piling up huge yardage again, but the defense keeps killing them. Nothing will change for the Lions until they can stop someone, and even with their issues the Packers are still very dangerous. We could see another shootout.
If you’re heading to the game, dress warm and keep a look out for Prilosec OTC as they are doing an on-location event at the Lambeau tailgate in connection with the new Prilosec OTC Wildberry.
From now until January 7, 2013, you can enter at WildberryFlavor.com for a chance to win trips to three of America’s most flavorful cities, including tickets to some of the country’s biggest sporting events courtesy of new Prilosec OTC Wildberry. One winner will be chosen at random to receive the prize pack, including tickets to the big football game in New Orleans (February 3, 2013), the first big auto race of the year in Daytona Beach (February 24, 2013) and the basketball championship game in Atlanta (April 8, 2013), travel and accommodations (a two-night hotel stay and air transportation for each destination), and one $5,000 check to be used in any of these flavorful cities.
New York Giants Eli Manning gets set to pass in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks in week 5 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 9, 2011. UPI /John Angelillo
Bengals @ Texans, Saturday, 4:30PM ET
The biggest concern for the Bengals right now might be the fact that rookie Andy Dalton has hit a wall. He’s topped 200 yards passing in just one of his final five games and he missed practice on Wednesday after being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. In his Week 14 matchup against Houston, he went 16-of-28 for 189 yards and one touchdown, which wasn’t enough as the Texans rallied for a 20-19 victory. For all the talk surrounding Houston’s quarterback situation this week, Dalton may be the key to this game. The Texans’ pass rush is one of the best in the league and their run defense has been stout as well. Cedric Benson was limited on Wednesday because of a foot injury and he’s also been dealing with a back issue. If the Bengals can’t get their running game going, Dalton will become the focus. Wade Phillips will surely throw a few wrinkles at the rookie in his first postseason game, so it’ll be interesting to see how Dalton responds to his biggest test as a pro. Win or lose, Dalton has had a great year and performed well beyond expectations. But for the Bengals to advance to the Divisional round, he’ll have to raise the level of his play.
Lions @ Saints, Saturday, 8:00PM ET, Saturday
The key to this game isn’t Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson or Detroit’s secondary. Believe it or not, it isn’t Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham or Sean Patyon either. The key to this game is Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and the rest of the Lions’ defensive line. You don’t beat an elite quarterback by blitzing him on every play. You beat him by dropping defenders into coverage and rushing him with your front four. Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady – they’re all the same. They can beat a blitz because they know their respective offenses like the back of their hand and they know exactly where to go with the football to burn a defense. But like any quarterback, they struggle the most when under pressure. Granted, it’s easier said than done to only bring four down linemen on a given play. If Suh and Co. don’t reach Brees, he’ll have plenty of time to wait until his receivers get open before delivering those accurate passes of his. Plus, a big reason why Brees is so good is because his offensive line has been excellent in pass blocking this season. Opponents try to overload with blitzes because Carl Nicks, Jermon Bushrod and Jahri Evans have been immovable objects up front. But it’s gut-check time for the Lions. They certainly have enough offensive weapons to match Brees and Payton, but if they can’t bring heat using their front four then they’ll be dead upon arrival.
Falcons @ Giants, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
While most of the national focus this week is on the explosive battle in New Orleans and whether or not Tim Tebow has any magic left in that inaccurate left arm of his, this Falcons-Giants matchup might be the most even of the four Wildcard games. Both teams are built to run the football and therefore, fans may be treated to a heavy dose of Michael Turner, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. But it’s been the play of Matt Ryan and Eli Manning that has gotten the Falcons and Giants as far as they are. Ryan’s 92.2 QB rating is his best in four seasons as a pro and in his last four games he has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10:0. Manning, meanwhile, has compiled a QB rating of 92.9 this year, which is only bested by his 93.1 mark in 2009. He also set franchise records for passing yards (4,933), attempts (589) and completions (359), and has set an NFL record by throwing 15 of his 29 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. He’s one of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest reason, that the Giants have five wins this season in which they erased fourth-quarter deficits. While Atlanta’s ability to slow New York’s pass rush will be a huge factor this weekend, this game will likely come down to the basics: penalties, turnovers, and execution (or lack thereof).
Steelers @ Broncos, 4:30PM, Sunday
With how pitiful Tim Tebow and the Denver offense looked last week at home versus Kansas City, there are plenty of NFL observers who envision a blowout this Sunday at Sports Authority Field. But as I wrote earlier this week in my “Five Questions…” piece, the Steelers aren’t exactly steamrolling into the playoffs. In their last four games Pittsburgh is averaging just over 14 points per game, which includes a 27-0 win over the hapless Rams in Week 16. It’s no coincidence that the Steelers’ offense started to struggle when Ben Roethlisberger hurt his ankle in a Week 14 victory over the Browns. But even two weeks prior to that when Big Ben was healthy, the Steelers managed just 13 points in a 13-9 win over the Chiefs. For as bad as Tebow has looked the past two weeks, Denver’s defense certainly has the capability of keeping things close, especially if the Steelers can’t run the ball without Rashard Mendenhall (season-ending knee injury). Granted, the Broncos aren’t going to win if they only manage a field goal like they did last Sunday, but this might not be the rout that many people expect.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the team out to warm up before the start of the Steelers-Arizona Cardinals game at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on October 23,2011. UPI/Art Foxall
Bengals +3 @ Texans, 4:30PM ET, Saturday
Before I looked at the point spreads for this week, I wrote down what I thought the line would be for each game. While I nailed both of the NFC games, I was off considerably for each AFC contest. For this matchup in particular, I had the Bengals as 1-point underdogs given the quarterback situation for the Texans. I thought Jake Delhomme would start because all indications out of Houston on Sunday were that T.J. Yates wouldn’t play. But now that Yates is expected to start, the line makes sense. While Houston enters postseason play as the most injury-riddled team in the tournament, the Texans still have an excellent shot of advancing because of their running game and Wade Phillips. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are a matchup problem for most teams, even those that can stop the run. And Phillips will surely throw in a few wrinkles to confuse quarterback Andy Dalton, who is playing in his first career playoff game. Laying any amount of points on the Texans seems risky but the Bengals aren’t exactly steamrolling into the postseason.
Lions +10.5 @ Saints, 8:00PM ET, Saturday
Attaching the hook to this game was a smart move by oddsmakers, who had to do something to give Saints-backers a moment of pause. There are probably plenty of bettors in Vegas who are laying the wood with New Orleans considering how dominant it’s been at home. But the Lions have already made a trip to the Superdome this year and thus, there will be no surprises. At 10, bettors may be apt to lay the points in hopes that, at the very least, they’ll get a push. But at 10.5 the Lions become a more attractive play. Detroit will also have Ndamukong Suh (who was suspended the first time these two teams met) for this contest, as well as a healthy Louis Delmas and Chris Houston (who were banged up in the first meeting). I’m not suggesting the Saints can’t or won’t cover: they certainly can. They’ve been an unstoppable force at home this season and Drew Brees looks ridiculously comfortable running Sean Payton’s offense on the Superdome turf. But 10.5 points is a lot for a playoff game, especially when you consider how good Detroit’s passing game is thanks to Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. NFL fans may get the shootout that they’re hoping for.
Falcons +3 @ Giants, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
If the roles were reversed and this game was being played in Atlanta, I’d fully expect the Falcons to be favored by 3. That’s because these two teams draw plenty of similarities to each other and thus, home field advantage is what sets the line. (On a neutral field I would almost expect the game to be set as a pick’em.) There will be plenty of New York backers for this one, especially when you factor in the Giants’ fierce pass rush, Matt Ryan’s 0-2 record in the postseason, and the Falcons’ lackluster play on the road this year. But while Atlanta is 4-4 on the road, New York is 4-4 at home so again, this is a pretty even matchup on paper. That said, if you’re a trends bettor then you have to love Atlanta. The Falcons are 5-0 against the spread in their last five road games versus the Giants and the road team is 8-0 against the number in the last eight meetings. The under is also 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings so if you’re looking for an edge when it comes to the total, under 47 might be a solid play.
Steelers –9 @ Broncos, 4:30PM ET, Sunday
I was way off when predicting the line for this game. You knew Denver was going to be an underdog given its brutal performance the past two weeks and the fact that Pittsburgh was coming to town, but I figured the spread would be around 5.5 or 6. Nine seems way too high, even when you consider how brutal Tim Tebow could look against Dick LeBeau’s defense. But the Steelers’ offense isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now. In their last four games, Ben Roethlisberger and Co. have scored 14, 3, 27 and 13 points, respectively. And that 27-point barrage came against a hapless St. Louis team that couldn’t move the ball in Week 16. Considering Big Ben has a bad ankle and Rashard Mendenhall is done for the season because of a knee injury, this game may be closer than people think. Remember, the Broncos are playing excellent defense right now so this may turn out to be a field goal-fest. (And if that’s the case, then maybe the under is the best play on the board, even though its sitting at 34.5.)
Every Tuesday throughout the NFL season I’ll discuss five of the biggest questions surrounding that week’s slate of action. This week it’s Wildcard Weekend in the NFL, as the playoffs kick off on Saturday. Can the Lions and Broncos pull off major upsets? Which team will show up in East Rutherford? Will the Texans have T.J. Yates at quarterback versus Cincinnati? Let’s dive in.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford congratulates New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (R) after the Saints beat the Lions 31-17 in their NFL football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)
1. Can the Lions slay the Saints?
Eight opponents walked into the Superdome this year with high hopes of pulling off an upset and all eight walked out with red bottoms after being spanked by a Saints team that has been unbeatable at home this season. Seeing as how the Lions were among the eight opponents who the Saints carved up this season, they seemingly don’t have a shot this Saturday when they travel back to New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs. (Oddsmakers certainly don’t think the Lions have much of a shot, as Detroit opened as a 10.5-point underdog.) That said, the Lions do posses a legit quarterback in Matthew Stafford, one of the best players in football in Calvin Johnson, and a front four that’s capable of getting after Drew Brees. Remember, due to his two-game suspension for stomping on Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Lions were without Ndamukong Suh the first time these two teams met. The only tried and true method to beating an elite quarterback like Brees is to pressure him with your front four. Blitzing doesn’t work, because he’s so comfortable in Sean Payton’s offense that he’ll beat one-on-one coverage or quickly find holes in the defense. While there’s no doubt the Lions have their hands full this weekend, they’re a damn good football team when they don’t beat themselves (which, unfortunately, is rare). In fact, if it weren’t for a couple of costly penalties and big drops by Lion receivers, Detroit may have come back against the Saints earlier this year in New Orleans. We’ll see if the boys from Motown can keep their composure and pull off the biggest upset of the weekend.
2 & 3. Can Tebow prove his critics wrong/Can the Steelers shake out of their offensive funk?
This will be a two-parter. When your quarterback can’t complete more than six passes when a division title and a trip to the postseason are on the line, critics will come out in droves. Tim Tebow was simply brutal in the Broncos’ Week 17 loss to the Chiefs, leaving even his staunchest supporters to leap off his bandwagon. But let’s keep in mind that Denver’s defense continues to play at a high level and kicker Matt Prater is almost a guarantee from all distances. Plus, it’s not like the Steelers are pictures of perfect health. Long before Rashard Mendenhall tore up his knee in the final regular season game of the year, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain that he hasn’t fully recovered from. It’s clear that Pittsburgh’s offense is in a major funk and while its defense shouldn’t have much trouble shutting down Tebow this weekend, it’s not like the Broncos don’t have the capabilities of pulling off an upset if they keep things close. Champ Bailey had his hands full with Dwayne Bowe last Sunday and Pittsburgh’s speedy receiving corps highlighted by Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown is a mismatch for Denver’s secondary. But will the offensive line give Big Ben time to throw? The Broncos’ strength defensively is in their ability to rush the passer. It won’t matter if Wallace and Brown shake loose in Denver’s secondary if Roethlisberger is constantly under pressure. That said, if Kansas City was able to hold Denver to just three points on the road, Pittsburgh’s defense is liable to pitch a shut out. That wasn’t meant to be a knock on Romeo Crennel’s defense, which is highly underrated, but Dick LeBeau’s complicated scheme could have Tebow’s head spinning. In what figures to be a low-scoring game, it’ll be interesting to see if Denver’s defense can come up big one more time and if Tebow has any magic left in those legs of his.
4. Which teams will show up in East Rutherford?
While there are obvious differences between the two teams, the Falcons and Giants mirror each other in many ways. First and foremost, they’re both highly inconsistent. The Giants proved that they have the weapons to upset the Patriots in Foxboro and sweep the Cowboys to make the postseason, but this is the same team that also lost to Seattle and Washington at home. The Falcons, meanwhile, beat the Lions in Detroit and nearly defeated the Saints at home, but managed just 13 points in a Week 3 loss to the Buccaneers and almost blew double-digit leads against Seattle, Tennessee and Minnesota. Both coaching staffs tend to play things too conservatively when they have a lead or are playing in tight games. Where Green Bay and New Orleans don’t stop attacking you until the final seconds tick off the clock, Atlanta and New York have a habit of taking their foot off the gas. In the case of the Giants, they have often fallen behind and had to play catch up in the fourth quarter. As for the Falcons, they like to build a lead and slowly give it away in the second half. But both teams also have fast defenses, good running games, weapons in the receiving corps, and are led by solid quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. In other words, both teams have the capability of taking it to an opponent if they happen to be firing on all cylinders that day. But the key words in that previous sentence are “happen to,” because you just never know which team will bother show up.
5. Will the Texans be able to overcome injuries yet again?
It’s a marvel the Texans have made it this far. It truly is. They lost their starting quarterback in Matt Schaub, his backup in Matt Leinart, their top defender in Mario Williams, and they’ve had to go much of the season without leading receiver Andre Johnson, too. Now T.J. Yates is hurt. Has a team ever hosted a playoff game after its top three quarterbacks all went down with injuries during the regular season? Furthermore, has a team ever advanced in the postseason without its top three quarterbacks? While the Texans insist that Yates (separated shoulder) will play this Saturday versus Cincinnati, there are reports out of Houston that suggest he may be done for the year. If that’s the case, then it’s Jake Delhomme time, which is scary if you’re a Texans fan. I don’t care if he did nearly bring Houston back last week against Tennessee: Delhomme is a turnover waiting to happen. If the Texans can’t control the game with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, then there’s a good chance that the Bengals will be advancing to the Divisional Round next week. It’s going to be an interesting afternoon in Houston this Saturday, to say the least.
Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (C) works against Denver Broncos J.D. Walton (L) and guard Chris Kuper at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on October 30, 2011. Detroit crushed Denver 45-10. UPI/Gary C. Caskey
If it weren’t for a Jets-Bills “shootout” I would have went 4-0 last Sunday. But seeing as how I’ve struggled all year with my NFL picks, I’m grateful for a 3-1 week. The Browns, Falcons and Broncos were my winners, while the under in the Jets-Bills contest was the lone loser. That puts me at 21-24-2 on the season.
Bengals @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
If the Bengals lose today their playoff hopes certainly won’t be dashed. But if they can’t beat Pittsburgh or Baltimore in the regular season, what makes them think they can beat either team in the playoffs? Or beat New England in the playoffs, for that matter? The Bengals have the revenge factor on their side after the Steelers beat them just three weeks ago in Cincinnati and have played hard all season. I think the Bengals, at the very least, will keep things close today in the “Steel City.” THE PICK: BENGALS +7
Falcons @ Texans, 1:00PM ET
With T.J. Yates under center and the Falcons on a mini-roll, Atlanta would seem like a great bet at -1. But the Falcons have a couple of injury issues that are worth noting. First and foremost, their top corner Brent Grimes is out following knee surgery and their starting nickel back Kelvin Hayden is out with a toe injury. Thus, the inexperienced Christopher Owens will start for Grimes and the extremely inexperienced Dominique Franks (a fifth-round pick from 2010) will fill in for Hayden at the nickel. Granted, even if I were starting at corner for Atlanta the Texans aren’t going to be throwing much with Yates. Houston will rely on its running game and defense to win this one and with Michael Turner and Julio Jones banged up, I like the Texans to pull off the small upset. THE PICK: TEXANS +1
Chiefs @ Bears, 1:00PM ET
I was shocked when I saw the opening line for this game, which was Bears -9. The spread is down to 7, which makes more sense, but I still think it’s too high. I don’t trust Mike Martz to put Caleb Hanie in successful situations and furthermore, to revolve his offense around Matt Forte, which is what he should do. The Chiefs are extremely limited offensively with Tyler Palko under center but at least this will be his third consecutive game as the starter. He should be more comfortable and confident in his abilities and I expect Kansas City’s defense to keep this game close, just like it did last week versus Pittsburgh. THE PICK: CHIEFS +7
Lions @ Saints, 8:20PM ET
This one could get ugly quickly. The best way to beat an elite quarterback like Drew Brees is to pressure him with your front four and then drop the back seven into coverage. That’s hard to do on its own and it gets to be an even bigger challenge for a team like Detroit that will be without its best defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. The Lions also have a slew of defensive backs out with injury and just don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Saints. I like New Orleans to roll. THE PICK: SAINTS -9