GREEN BAY—No prediction is ever foolproof, but there's ample evidence to suggest a close, four-quarter game is on tap between the Packers and Lions on Sunday night.
The Lions' 2012 season is the first and, perhaps, biggest clue. Only two of their 12 games this season have been decided by more than one score, and the team's fortunes have risen and fallen based on fourth-quarter play.
In starting the year 4-4, the Lions outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter by a margin of 104-72. In losing their last four games, a streak that includes losing the lead the last three weeks in the final two minutes of the game, the Lions have been outscored 49-27 in the fourth quarter. The first Packers-Lions matchup on Nov. 18 was one of those turnaround games, with Green Bay scoring the go-ahead TD with 1:55 left.
"They've lost a lot of close games," Packers receiver James Jones said. "It's part of the NFL. They've been in every game they've played. They took us down to the wire a couple weeks ago.
"We know we're going to get their best shot. They wouldn't want anything better than to knock the Packers off from trying to make it into the playoffs, so we know it's going to be a tough game."
The Packers' current 21-game winning streak over the Lions in the state of Wisconsin also isn't as dominant as it sounds, at least not of late.
Twelve of the first 13 victories in the streak, from 1992 through 2003, featured a final margin of more than one score. The lone contest that didn't was the 1994 wild-card playoff game, a 16-12 decision.
Since then, six of the last eight meetings at Lambeau Field have been decided by one score, including the last two by a combined margin of six points.
"I guess we just have their number, but I think it's always been a fight," receiver Donald Driver said. "You think about the year they were 0-15 (in 2008), we played them the last game of the season and they came in here and fought us all the way down to the wire. It's going to continue to be a fight, and we can't let up."
There's too much at stake for the Packers to do that. While the 4-8 Lions are essentially out of the playoff race, the 8-4 Packers need to head to next week's showdown in Chicago no worse than tied with the Bears for first in the NFC North. The 8-4 Bears travel to the 6-6 Vikings on Sunday.
Also, division record is the second tiebreaker following head-to-head results, and the Packers are the only NFC North team at the moment without a division loss. That advantage could come in handy.
"It's a division game, so it means a lot," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We're trying to get to 10 wins and then we can start talking about the 'P' word."
It's traditionally been Head Coach Mike McCarthy's approach not to discuss playoff scenarios until the team gets to 10 wins, so two more W's are needed.
Those wins have come in a variety of ways this season for the Packers, who have trailed late in the third or fourth quarters in each of their last two victories (over Detroit and Minnesota). Add in a go-ahead fourth-quarter TD drive vs. New Orleans in Week 4, and that's three late rallies among Green Bay's eight wins in 2012.
Last season, the Packers trailed late in the third quarter or beyond in only two of their 15 wins (at Atlanta in Week 5; vs. Detroit in Week 17).
"It's interesting to see each week who steps up and how we get the job done on the field," Rodgers said. "There's been a lot of different ways to win. Last year it was pretty consistent. The offense scored a lot of points and we won a lot of games by multiple scores. I don't know if we had many games we were trailing last year.
"This year we've had some comeback victories. Last week we had an 11-minute drive to put us up two scores. It's been a team that's a little more battle-tested than last year. We've been through a lot more adversity, especially early in the season. We're playing the right way now and have to keep it going."
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