Only in the case of the 2010 Detroit Lions, it's probably less a tired cliché and more the actual truth. The Packers know that first-hand after escaping with a 28-26 win over Detroit at Lambeau Field back in Week 4, when the Lions scored more points against the Packers than any other team this year and nearly rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half.
"They're probably the best 2-10 team you'll ever see," safety Nick Collins said. "They've got a lot of talent. They bring it every Sunday. They're just not finishing games. We know what we've got in front of us."
Here's a list of reasons the 2-10 Lions have the Packers' attention heading into Sunday's matchup at Ford Field:
--They've gone toe-to-toe with some of the league's best teams. The Lions have lost seven games this season by one score or less, and four of those have been by a field goal or less. Even more noteworthy is that, in addition to the Week 4 game in Green Bay, the Lions also have taken other playoff contenders to the wire.
They lost 35-32 to NFC East-leading Philadelphia in Week 2 and 23-20 in overtime to current AFC East runner-up New York in Week 9. Detroit actually led the Jets, who are now 9-3, by 10 points in the fourth quarter but lost starting quarterback Matthew Stafford for the second time this season to injury and couldn't hold on down the stretch.
Then last week, Detroit had a 20-17 edge on NFC North leader Chicago in the fourth quarter behind third-string quarterback Drew Stanton (who also will start this week against the Packers) before losing 24-20. The Lions rolled up 253 yards of offense in the first half alone against a solid Bears defense but couldn't sustain it to put together a fourth-quarter drive when they needed one.
"It comes down to making plays, and we made some plays in this last game, we just didn't make enough," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "That's really the biggest thing. It's hard to build confidence when you're getting blown out of games and never have a chance from the very beginning. But every situation when you're in a close game, it comes down to making those plays at the end and we haven't made enough of them this year."
To illustrate his point, Schwartz talked about the start of the second half against Chicago. Detroit led 17-14 and got a strip-sack of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the second snap of the third quarter, recovering at the Chicago 9-yard line. A big play.
But the Lions couldn't make another one and ended up settling for a short field goal and a 20-14 lead. The offense then managed just three first downs the rest of the game as the Bears scored the final 10 points for the comeback win.
"We want it amount to more wins," Stanton said of Detroit's competitive play. "It's a matter of winning close games. We have to find a way to make one or two more plays offensively to put us over the top. We've been in a lot of games, there's something to be said for that, but at the end of the day you're measured by wins and losses."
--They can be explosive on offense, particularly in the passing game. To see how quickly the Lions can score, again go back no further than last week against Chicago.
Detroit, trailing 14-10, was backed up on its own 9 with 53 seconds left in the first half. Speedy rookie running back Jahvid Best, who has battled turf toe all season, bounced a run outside for 45 yards, and Stanton then hit Calvin Johnson over the middle for a 46-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Two plays, 91 yards, and the halftime lead, just like that.
Despite using three different quarterbacks this season – Stafford, Stanton and Shaun Hill, who started the first meeting with Green Bay and is now injured – the Lions rank eighth in the league in passing offense. Johnson and second-year tight end Brandon Pettigrew are big reasons.
Johnson ranks second in the league behind Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe with 12 receiving touchdowns, while Pettigrew is tied for second in the league with Washington's Chris Cooley and behind Dallas' Jason Witten for receptions among tight ends with 60.
Pettigrew has posted at least four catches in a game nine times this season as he has developed into a steady, consistent threat. At 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, Johnson is the Lions' most explosive playmaker, which the Packers have seen plenty before. He scored two touchdowns against Green Bay in the first meeting this season, giving him seven touchdowns in his last four games against the Packers.
"He can go out there and take over football games as he's done at times this year," Stanton said. "That's a great security blanket for a quarterback to have, and he definitely wows you at times."
--Their return game is a legitimate threat. Claimed off waivers from Pittsburgh in the final roster reduction back in early September, 5-foot-6 speedster Stefan Logan leads the league with a 28.8-yard average on kickoff returns and ranks fourth with a 12.4-yard average on punt returns.
He has the longest kickoff return in the league this season, a 105-yard touchdown vs. St. Louis in Week 5, and he had one of those potentially game-changing returns last week against the Bears. Right after Chicago scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, Logan brought the ensuing kickoff back 60 yards to the Bears' 44-yard line, giving the Lions great field position, but the drive quickly fizzled.
--The defensive front gets after quarterbacks. Detroit's defense ranks fourth in the league in sacks per pass play, as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh leads all NFL rookies with eight sacks, while up-and-coming defensive end Cliff Avril is right behind him with seven after his three-sack performance last week against the Bears.
The bad news for the Lions is that veteran end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had four sacks in the first eight games this season, is now on injured reserve (as is their best playmaker in the secondary, cornerback Alphonso Smith, who leads the team with five interceptions).
Suh had one of Detroit's two sacks in the first meeting with the Packers this season, and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft looks to be a defensive force up front for years to come.
"He's strong for sure, that's the one thing, and he has good technique," Packers center Scott Wells said. "He pushes the pocket well, stays active. You don't see him on the ground a lot. It's really hard to knock him down, even when guys come and hit him."
Suffice to say, with Green Bay in the playoff hunt, only four games remaining, and facing a division opponent that knows them well, the last thing the Packers are focusing on when it comes to the Lions is that 2-10 overall mark.
"We don't need to look at their record," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "They came into Lambeau a few weeks back and played very well against us, the best they've played against us in some time. We stay true to the tape. We need to go to Detroit and play our best game.
"We're going after this one. It's an extremely important game."
Additional coverage – Dec. 8