Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers: Preview by the Numbers, Thanksgiving Edition


Oct 6, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush (21) tries to get past Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Neal (96) and linebacker Rob Francois (49) in the third quarter at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 22-9. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

When the NFL schedule revealed a Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers matchup on Thanksgiving, few likely predicted that it would be a matchup between a pair of imploding teams. Yet that’s what we have this week: a matchup between two teams trying save their playoff aspirations amidst a series of disappointing losses.

The winner of this game controls their own playoff destiny over the final month of the season and there are plenty of subplots to keep things interesting. Take your pick of:

  • Matt Flynn’s (probable) return as Green Bay’s backup starter comes against Detroit, against whom he made millions of dollars with his 480-yard, six-touchdown performance to cap off the 2011-2012 regular season
  • Lions-Packers play on Thanksgiving for the first time since Ndamukong Suh’s infamous kick of Evan Dietrich-Smith (also in 2011)
  • Detroit tries to break its nine-game Thanksgiving Day losing streak
  • The last team the Lions beat on Thanksgiving is Green Bay in 2003 (they’ve also lost to the Packers three times since)

And that’s on top of the usual Green Bay-Detroit matchup stories. As usual, let’s look at the statistical matchups, and think about how weird Green Bay’s offense numbers are considering they account for roughly four games without Aaron Rodgers.

Detroit Lions’ NFL Rankings

All stats courtesy of

Despite the fact that the Lions actually improved their numbers on third down (they didn’t allow the Bucs a third-down conversion until the second half), the Ravens overtook them in that category, making this the first time all season that the Lions aren’t either first or second in third-down conversion percentage allowed.

Based on the stats alone, it would be reasonable to expect a shootout here, with both offenses seemingly outpacing their defensive counterparts. However, there are a number of reasons why that expectation may be denied.

First, the Packers have survived mostly on their running game of late, with the emergence of rookie sensation Eddie Lacy helping to take some of the sting out of losing Rodgers (though not nearly enough, given their 0-3-1 record in that span). The Lions, however, have emerged as one of the stoutest run defenses in the NFL, and they will be highly focused on keeping Lacy contained.

In fact, the run defenses for both teams slightly outclass the run offenses, which likely puts the onus on the shoulders of quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Flynn.

So why is that a problem? Flynn can’t be trusted, despite his sporadic past success, and the Packers are more stripped of top-end receiving options than they have been in the past.

For the Lions, Stafford has been erratic and unreliable, and the Packers, very quietly, field one of the most effective pass rushes in the NFL. Stafford hasn’t been hitting his throws even when he has time. Will he be able to manage with Clay Matthews bearing down on him every play?

This brings us to the greatest key in this game: turnovers. It has taken the Lions two weeks to go from a positive turnover differential to -7. A positive turnover differential was the calling card of the Lions’ victories early on. Now, not only has the offense started turning the ball over more, but the defense has forced only one turnover — an interception of Jay Cutler on a tipped pass — in the last five games.

One of those units has to course-correct. Either the offense needs to protect the ball better, or the defense needs to start getting after the ball. Preferably both. If neither one of those things happens, the Lions are going to be fighting an uphill battle, just as they have been for weeks.

Lions Fantasy Corner

Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Pleasant Surprise

When a guy comes back from an extended injury, it’s hard to predict how he’ll fare in his first game back. Nate Burleson alleviated concerns with a huge first quarter, which included his first touchdown catch of the season. Unfortunately, he mostly disappeared (and contributed a drop or two) afterwards, but it still rounded into a solid Fantasy day for him.

Bitter Disappointment

Reggie Bush didn’t have a bad day in general, but there is a disturbing trend emerging with him. He doesn’t appear to be avoiding open-field tackles very well. Whether that was more a sign of a decline in Bush’s lateral quickness and vision, or just really solid tackling by the Bucs’ back seven, I don’t know. But still, for as decent as Bush’s day was against the Bucs, it would have been better had he been able to shake tackles instead of running straight for contract, Mikel Leshoure-style.

Sleeper Pick for Week 13

I can’t advocate that anyone put their Fantasy trust in him, especially in the final week of most leagues’ regular seasons, but Brandon Pettigrew may be on the verge of a hot streak. With Nate Burleson working back into the offense, Pettigrew should become that much easier to overlook, which is basically the only way he gets open these days. And he seems to actually be catching more than half of the passes that hit him in the hands lately, so there’s that, too

Random Numbers

Since this game should herald the return of one of the greatest statistical anomalies in NFL history, this week’s Random Numbers segment focuses on the illustrious accomplishments of one Matt Flynn.

1 — Starts for Flynn since his six-touchdown game against the Lions in 2011

6 — Games in which Flynn has appeared in any capacity since becoming a free agent in 2012

3 — Times Flynn has been cut since 2012

$14.5 million —Guaranteed money Flynn has made since 2012

480 — Passing yards for Flynn vs. Detroit on New Year’s Day, 2012

532 — Combined passing yards for Flynn in 2012 and 2013 seasons

6 — Passing touchdowns for Flynn vs. Detroit on New Year’s Day, 2012

2 — Combined passing touchdowns for Flynn in 2012 and 2013 seasons

70.5 — Completion percentage for Flynn vs. Detroit in 2011-2012 season

58.3 — Completion percentage for Flynn vs. Minnesota last Sunday

244 — In case you’d forgotten, receiving yards for Calvin Johnson in the “Matt Flynn game”