There were plenty of days this season when the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers had no compelling reason to believe the playoffs were in the cards in the regular-season finale.
The Lions lost six of their first seven games. The Packers entered last month with a 4-8 record.
Both teams are now 8-8, tied with Seattle for the final wild-card berth entering a showdown in Green Bay on Sunday night.
Only the Packers control their own destiny. It’s a “win and they’re in” situation for the home team, while the Lions need a Seahawks loss along with a win over their NFC North rival to reach the postseason.
Detroit coach Dan Campbell views the game as a taste of the postseason, even though his team might be eliminated before it starts. Seattle plays the Los Angeles Rams four hours earlier.
“Let’s have the time of our lives and let’s find a way to win this game,” he said. “The bottom line is I can just gauge the room and you can feel it. We get to be on the big stage and our guys are excited about that. One way or another, we get to play one more game — at the very least we’re playing one more game.”
Detroit remained in the playoff picture with a resounding 41-10 victory over Chicago in its home finale. The Lions rushed for 265 yards and Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes as they bounced back from a loss to Carolina the previous weekend.
“It’s an explosive offense,” Packers coach Matt LeFleur said. “I think they do a great job schematically and present a lot of challenges.”
The Lions’ turnaround began with a 15-9 win over the Packers on Nov. 6. That game was decided by turnovers as Aaron Rodgers threw a season-high three interceptions, including two in the end zone.
The Packers have been surging in large part because of defense. They forced four turnovers in each of their last two games — victories over Miami and Minnesota.
“A big reason why we’ve won these last four games is the turnover battle,” LaFleur said. “When we hit that skid and for a majority of the season, we were losing that turnover battle.”
Rodgers has only been picked off twice during the winning streak. He will be looking to lead the Packers to the playoffs for the 12th time in 14 seasons.
“He’s a handful no matter when you play them,” Campbell said.
Goff statistically has enjoyed a better season than Rodgers, throwing for 4,214 yards and 29 touchdowns with four fewer interceptions (seven). He hasn’t thrown an interception in the last eight games.
“It’s not the same old Lions,” Rodgers said. “They were 1-6 at one point and they’ve come all the way back to 8-8, and there will be a lot on the line for both teams. It will be exciting to line up against them.”
Regardless of how things shake out on Sunday, the Lions have displayed vast improvement after a 3-13-1 record in Campbell’s first year as head coach.
“We hit a rough spot and stayed with it and here we are,” he said. “I just know for us it means something that we climbed back out of the cellar and got ourselves in a position to play for one more meaningful game before the year ends and that’s a step in the right direction.”
Rodgers sat out Wednesday’s practice to rest thumb and knee injuries. Detroit center Frank Ragnow (foot) missed the Lions’ practice.
–Field Level Media