(Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur photo courtesy Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
When and Where: Monday, Oct. 14, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc., 8:20 p.m. EDT.
There are many things Aaron Rodgers has faced over the course of his storied career, but a new challenge awaits him Monday night when the Green Bay Packers host NFC North rival Detroit to wrap up Week 6.
Ending a losing streak to the Lions.
Rodgers has tormented the Lions over his career, going 13-5 with 4,526 yards and 37 touchdown passes with just six interceptions. There have been Hail Marys answered, a 6-2 record in games decided by seven or fewer points, and eight games of 300 or more yards.
Yet one of the few things Detroit (2-1-1) got right in Matt Patricia’s first season was doing enough to beat Green Bay. Rodgers threw for 442 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-23 loss to the Lions, with his two fumbles among three turnovers that consigned the Packers (4-1) to defeat.
In last season’s finale at Lambeau Field, Rodgers left the game in the second quarter due to a concussion likely suffered on the second play of the game when he was sacked and lost his helmet. He played the remainder of the first quarter before coming out, and the Lions coasted to a 31-0 victory.
It was the second straight year Detroit swept Green Bay, with Rodgers missing both games in 2017 due to a broken right clavicle. It is the longest winning streak the Lions have enjoyed in this lengthy rivalry since an 11-game run from 1949-54, long before the days of Rodgers, Brett Favre, and even Bart Starr were under center for the Packers.
Lions in Review
The Lions had the bye week to stew about their 34-30 home loss to Kansas City on Sept. 29 that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten. The positive was Detroit went toe-to-toe for the Chiefs for the full 60 minutes and led 30-27 after Matthew Stafford hooked up with Kenny Golladay on a 6-yard TD pass with 2:26 to play, but that was also more than enough time for Patrick Mahomes to march the Chiefs 79 yards for a game-winning drive.
The other positive for Detroit was Kerryon Johnson finally having a breakout performance, nearly doubling his yardage total on the season after rushing for a season-best 125 on a career-high 26 carries. Johnson had totaled just 126 yards on 48 carries in the first three contests.
The Lions also held Mahomes without a touchdown pass, something that will be difficult to duplicate against Rodgers given Green Bay’s varied passing attack. Detroit has been a flexible defense that stiffens in the red zone, yielding 1,175 yards but just four TD tosses while opposing quarterbacks have completed just 55.4 percent of their passes.
Packers in Review
Though Rodgers has put up solid numbers in the first five games with 1,307 yards and six TDs with only one interception while completing 62.8 percent of his passes, there are times it is obvious there are teething pains with first-year coach Matt LaFleur’s offense.
That said, other players have been stepping up — not to pick up Rodgers, but rather complement his play. In Dallas against the Cowboys last weekend, it was running back Aaron Jones, who had 107 yards on 19 carries and all four touchdowns as Green Bay turned back a late rally in a 34-24 win.
Rodgers played the hot hand both running and passing, which was also Jones out of the backfield as he caught seven passes for 75 yards. Nine different players had at least one reception for the Packers, who yielded 563 yards but picked off Dak Prescott three times.
The takeaways have been an integral part of Green Bay’s success as it enters this contest with a plus-7 turnover margin, and its seven interceptions have already matched the total for all of last season.
Lions run offense vs Packers run defense
After Johnson came one yard shy of doubling his season rushing total, the obvious question is “What does he do for an encore?”
For his part, Patricia is not averse to giving the second-year back more touches — which is good for Johnson’s confidence after he had a goal-line fumble against the Chiefs returned 100 yards for a touchdown — but he is also not going out of his way to have offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell overhaul his weekly game plan.
“I think it was really just product of the game, to be honest with you,” Patricia said regarding Johnson’s Week 4 effort. “I think it was something where he was running really well, and then, really, honestly, for the situation that came up where we had the swing there with the fumble on the goal line, just thought it was a confidence thing for me to get him back out there and get him going again.”
One bit of good news is rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson should be available to help clear holes for Johnson. The eighth overall pick cleared the league’s concussion protocol over the weekend.
Green Bay’s plus-7 turnover margin is tied with New England for the best in the NFL, and it also magnifies how important those takeaways are when examining a porous run defense.
The Packers have allowed an average of 161.3 rushing yards on 5.42 yards per carry in their last four games. Even while trailing the entire game last week, the Cowboys were confident enough they mixed in an occasional run to finish with 122 rushing yards.
It can be argued the Packers are catching a break in not facing one of the league’s elite backs after struggling to contain both Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook, but Philadelphia’s non-descript running backs churned out 176 yards in Week 4 and Denver committed to the run in Week 3 and finished with 149 on 38 carries.
Lions pass offense vs. Packers pass defense
Here is a much better breakdown of the above touchdown pass by Stafford that shows the 11-year pro still has plenty of zip on the ball in addition to being able to read defenses fairly well.
Despite a 7-10 lifetime record for the Packers, Stafford has more than held up his end in the last seven games — he has accumulated 2,085 yards and 16 TD passes against only two interceptions while completing 66.2 percent of his passes. Stafford also has nine TD tosses without an interception during Detroit’s current four-game winning streak in this series.
“He is a great quarterback. He can make all the throws,” Packers safety Adrian Amos told SI.com. “He has a big arm. Playing them over the years, he is one of the top guys in the league. You can’t make it easy on them quarterbacks. Hopefully, we can get some pressure on them.”
Amos has seamlessly transitioned from Chicago to Green Bay, recording one of the Packers’ seven interceptions. While opposing quarterbacks are 9 for 12 on passes in his vicinity, those completions have netted just 52 yards.
Much of the ink regarding Green Bay’s pass defense has covered the upgrades in the pass rush Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith have provided, but cornerbacks Kevin King and Jaire Alexander are also proving themselves on a week-in, week-out basis.
The pair have recorded 15 pass breakups and three interceptions between them as opposing quarterbacks have had only sporadic success. Opponents are 18 for 40 throwing Alexander’s way and 19 for 31 against King, though the volume of targets has resulted in both of them ranked in the top 10 for yards allowed in coverage.
“They’re just putting a lot of pressure on opponents stopping the run and putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback to allow the guys in the back end to be able to cover,” Patricia noted to the Detroit Free Press. “A very aggressive, attacking-style defense. I would say the other part of it is the turnover part of the team right now, with the offense not turning the ball over and the defense getting turnovers and things like that.”
Packers run offense vs. Lions run defense
It used to be a simple credo, stop Rodgers and you stop the Packers.
LaFleur has not reinvented the wheel by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to the offense — Green Bay still ranks in the bottom half of the league when it comes to run-pass balance at 40.1 percent run (18th), but it is much better than last year when it ran the ball 32.5 percent of the time.
In some ways, Jones is like his Lions counterpart Johnson in that LaFleur has yet to really use his running back as a bellcow. Jones has gotten more than 13 carries twice in Green Bay’s first five games, but those two games were also his most productive ones as he topped 100 yards on both occasions.
Jones’ 182 yards from scrimmage tied the highest total for any Packers running back since Rodgers became the full-time starter in 2008, and he also has two of the three highest totals in that span.
“Yeah, he was running, and he was running well,” Rodgers told the team’s official website after the win over Dallas. “His typical style, slasher, cutbacks, breaking tackles. I thought it was a great game for him. He was the hot hand. Got a lot of touches down in the red zone and finished those up nicely.”
Much like the Packers’ run defense, the Lions have consistently struggled to stop the run. Detroit has yielded at least 112 yards in every game and 124.8 per contest overall as teams have averaged 4.84 yards per carry.
It is not strictly running backs, though, as quarterbacks have been able to exploit coverage schemes to take off when passing lanes are not there. Of the 499 yards given up, opposing quarterbacks have gained 112 of them. Even Philip Rivers had a 12-yard run.
Rodgers has those same wily instincts, but stopping Jones will be a chore. The good news for the Lions is that they will likely be able to do so out of a base defense as opposed to against Kansas City where they primarily operated out of nickel and dime defenses to counteract the Chiefs’ speed.
Packers pass offense vs Lions pass defense
Just a reminder that even at age 35, Rodgers is still capable of many, many things in the passing game.
Blitzing Rodgers is still not entirely advisable as he has completed 66.7 percent of his passes (26 for 39) for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns without an interception. His overall completion percentage of 62.8 is somewhat misleading because there are usually a handful of incompletions every game that come as a by-product of his refusal to throw a ball that could intercepted.
The challenge for this game is again playing without Davante Adams, who will miss his second straight game due to turf toe. Nine different players caught at least one pass versus Dallas, and that balance will likely carry over into this contest.
When stacked side-by-side compared to last season, the new run-pass balance means that the Packers are essentially calling one more running play per every four plays. Rodgers’ pass attempts are down slightly at 36 this season compared to 37.3 in 2018, but he is also getting sacked significantly less at 5.2 percent of his dropbacks compared to 7.5 percent last season.
“I like the way we’re going and I’m not going to put a timetable on when everybody is going to feel totally comfortable,” Rodgers said on Brett Favre’s SiriusXM show, according to Pro Football Talk. “I’m just going to say that I’ve seen progress since Week 1 where we struggled and Week 2 we came out and played a little better. Three and then four, you know, we got the passing game going and a couple of days ago we got the run game really rolling.”
The Lions are similar to the Packers in the sense their secondary does a standout job in frustrating receivers. There are few times one can say a secondary won the battle while giving up 315 passing yards, but in holding Patrick Mahomes without a touchdown pass, the Lions had a chance to pull out a win.
While the yardage amount may be unsightly at 280.8 per game, the Lions have not allowed an opposing quarterback to complete 60 percent of his passes. Detroit has also yielded just four TD passes overall, but the concern is a pass rush that has generated just nine sacks and may struggle to get to Rodgers given his ability to both escape trouble and throw it away from danger.
“I think you guys know me well enough to know that I’m extremely competitive,”Patricia said. “I want to win and everything I do I try to make sure I do it to the best of my abilities.
“But when you’re staring across the line of scrimmage at Aaron Rodgers, you know you’ve got a long day of work in front of you.”
Rodgers is 13-5 against Detroit and has completed 66% of his passes against them to go with a 109 quarterback rate in his career since 2008.
“Man, he’s just another one of those dynamic quarterbacks that can beat you multiple ways,” Lions linebacker Devon Kennard said. “So try to contain him, not let him extend plays because I think he’s one of, if not the best, at extending plays and having come choreography with his receivers where they know what to do and he knows where to place it.
“Try to do that and it starts there. And then put pressure on him and the (defensive backs) covering the guys.”
Special Teams and Other Things
Patricia won coming out of the bye week last season, winning at Miami. The Lions coach appears to be finding his stride after an up-and-down rookie campaign and looks comfortable with each passing game.
Matt Prater has converted five of his last six field goal attempts and all six of his PATs in the last two games. Jamal Agnew continues to be the only player to return a kickoff for a touchdown through the first five weeks but could be hard-pressed to find an opportunity for a runback with Packers kicker Mason Crosby recording touchbacks on 19 of 26 kickoffs.
Lions punter Sam Martin has proven effective with eight of his 20 punts going inside the opponents’ 20-yard line against just two touchbacks. Martin, though, has recorded just eight touchbacks on 23 kickoffs.
Much like Patricia, LaFleur continues to show an upward trajectory in his coaching acumen. He showed excellent resiliency in his play-calling against Dallas after admitting his shortcomings in the Week 4 loss to Philadelphia when it could have been very easy to just lean on Rodgers.
JK Scott has been booming his punts, averaging 48.3 yards and putting 12 of his 29 efforts inside the opposing 20-yard line while netting 44.1. Green Bay’s punt return game has been non-existent with one total yard on eight returns, and the kickoff return game has not been much better with Tremon Smith getting just three opportunities and totaling 68 yards.
ONTO THE PICKS!
Packers +3/OVER 40 points teaser (-110)
Aaron Jones OVER 31.5 receiving yards (-114)
The Packers have scored 27 or more points in three straight games, something that had not happened since Weeks 3 through 5 of the 2017 season. There is confidence in both quarterbacks to deliver points, and a total of 40 with the expectation both teams will score at least 20 points makes this an easy teaser with the home team getting a field goal.
The expectation is with Detroit’s secondary doing well to cover Valdes-Scantling and Allison when he lines up wide that Jones will be targeted early and often by Rodgers on checkdowns and the occasional wheel route. Rodgers has looked Jones’ way 15 times the last two games, and the pair have connected 13 times.
Packers -3.5 (-105)
OVER 46.5 points (-110)
While both teams have good pass defenses, both teams also have good quarterbacks who have found success against the opponents over the years. This will be a good test for the Packers revamped pass rush as well as Bevell’s offense, and in the opposite direction for LaFleur and Rodgers against a sneaky-good Lions secondary.
Both teams should be able to find success on the ground, and if that happens, the play action becomes a fare more effective weapon. That increases big-play potential, something both Rodgers and Stafford can deliver.
Packers OVER 12.5 points 1st half (-115)
There was some temptation to take the Packers giving only one-half point in the first quarter at even money since they have outscored opponents 42-3 in the first 15 minutes, but there is as much — if not more confidence — in Rodgers directing two touchdown drives in the first half. Green Bay has scored 17 or more points in the first half of its last four games.
Kerryon Johnson OVER 72.5 rushing yards (-114)
Geronimo Allison OVER 47.5 receiving yards (-114)
Allison is more of a gamble, but the feeling is LaFleur will play to his strength and line him up in the slot more often than out wide, and he will able to get more of his yards on underneath routes. It is a low-risk gamble, though, when one considers it could take just one go pattern to hit this number — and Rodgers can certainly deliver a deep ball.
Packers -2.5 first half (-115)
The Packers have been a solid first-half team, leading on four occasions and trailing by one point in the fifth. They have led at intermission in both matchups versus NFC North teams. Detroit also has been strong in the first two quarters, leading in three of its four games and both times on the road. The hedge, though, is the Packers are able to eke out a lead with better offensive efficiency.
OVER 23 points first half (-110)
The appeal comes with the total being a full point below a TD+FG total of 24, and with the big-play potential of both quarterbacks, the over is worth a flyer. The Lions have scored 37 points in the first half of their two road games while the Packers have averaged 16.4 points in the first two quarters.