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Shifting into another gear is required late in the year

In the fourth quarter, the Lions will believe, and the Packers will have to overcome


Andy from Appleton, WI

Hello! Which specific player-on-player matchup (offense or defense) is the most important to a Packers victory over the Lions?

My radar is honed in on Detroit cornerback Darius Slay and his hamstring injury. I think Slay is top-notch, and the best defensive player the Lions have. If he's healthy enough to play and cover Jordy Nelson, it's a different game than if he's not.

Larry from Mount Pleasant, SC

Anyone who watched the first half of the Lions-Cowboys game has reason to be very concerned about Sunday night's game. But what changed in the second half? I believe the difference in the outcome was the defensive scheme change. I know players still must execute but without this change it would have come down to who had the ball last. Was this your observation? Packer fans fear that this game will be won or lost on the last series.

Don't fear it. Embrace it. With the type of fourth-quarter team the Lions have been this season, I fully expect a down-to-the-wire finish.

Joe from Asbury, IA

Nothing has been easy for this team all season. That's why I fully expect the Redskins to beat the Giants. That added pressure to the division championship game and playoff hopes I believe tilts the advantage to the Packers. They have the personnel that's been there and done that and the added chip on their shoulders of losing the division championship game last year. Here's to starting 2017 with a BANG! Just win baby!

The Lions will believe they're going to win in the fourth quarter. It's been their MO. What's at stake isn't going to shake that confidence, in my view. The Packers will have to overcome it.

Brennan from Menasha, WI

On a light note, what is your favorite game you've ever been to?

Spartans-Badgers, Oct. 16, 1982. People all around us had radios listening to Cardinals-Brewers Game 4, and the game at Camp Randall was a nail-biter, too. It couldn't have been a better day for a 10-year-old Wisconsin sports fan.

Joe from Pittsburgh, PA

It seems increasingly clear that a team's first half of the season performance is a mirage, and the real run for the roses begins in the final eight games. I look this year at the Vikings and Eagles. They were in the Super Bowl talk early on, and then reality sets in and we all settle down. Do even the elite teams "pace" themselves, then turn it on when it really counts?

Coaches have to find the formula for shifting their teams into another gear late in the year. There's nothing wrong with early success, but the season is too long to sustain that success if another, higher level of play can't be found.

Tom from Royal Oak, MI

Packer fan living just outside Detroit, forced to watch Lions on TV nearly every weekend. This game coming up in Detroit, with two straight road losses and most fans online saying they're going to lose to the Pack, is the perfect scenario for the Lions. Watch out. Stafford will be on fire. If I were forced to bet all I have, intellectually, I'd have to bet it on the Lions. Emotionally, of course, the Pack. But given my experience in this part of the world, it's going to be the perfect storm resulting in a Packers loss. Hope I'm wrong.

The Lions haven't won a division title, nor consequently hosted a playoff game, in 23 years. I expect the fans to make that sentiment audible inside Ford Field on Sunday night.

Ethan from Bloomington, IL

My dad has two playoff tickets to a Packer game if they get a home game. My mom wants to go but she can't name the backup quarterback and rarely watches the games. Will you tell my dad on your response that I should get the ticket?

Maybe your best approach is to tell your dad he doesn't want to spend the entire game educating your mom and you'd be happy to do it instead.

Sam from Saratoga Springs, NY

Randall and Rollins have shown a ton of talent but have also been inconsistent to say the least this season. Is this just growing pains? Can the secondary get it together in time to make a deep playoff run?

Growing pains and injury issues. Youth and health are difficult obstacles to overcome when they have to be dealt with at the same time. We haven't seen their best this season for those reasons, but if the Packers get their best now, that's all that matters.

Bruce from Coral Springs, FL

I'm worried that the defense is unable to stop anyone unless they get a turnover. I understand that's a focus, but it seems too much to ask to win the battle of the turnovers enough times to make a good run the rest of the season. Is this a legitimate concern?

Turnovers are game-changers, but if you can't get them, stops in the red zone are the next-best thing. During the Packers' four-game losing streak, the defense allowed TDs on 13 of 17 red-zone possessions. Early red-zone stops against the Seahawks and Vikings, and the late one against the Bears, have made a big difference lately.

Health from New Ulm, MN

Such an interesting scenario in that a tie is basically a win for the Packers. Do you think it would change the way a team approaches overtime in this case?

Only if the overtime is down to the last few minutes. Otherwise, I don't really think so.

Howard from Sarasota, FL

Do we know which officiating crew will be assigned to the Packers game Sunday night?

Jerome Boger's crew is doing the game. That crew has not done a Green Bay game all season to my knowledge.

Marty from Grafton, WI

I don't care about the earlier games. If I'm McCarthy I'm "burning the boats" in Detroit.

I'm curious if the team will specifically address the Giants-Redskins result before kickoff. McCarthy indicated it won't be part of any pregame discussions, but that doesn't mean the players won't know.

Kyle from Cedar Rapids, IA

On Jordy's second TD catch, Aaron signaled to Jordy which direction to move just before releasing the ball. This reminded me of Nelson pointing to Rodgers where he wanted the ball in the Seahawks game. The Rodgers-Nelson chemistry looks to be among the best in the NFL right now.

Hearing McCarthy explain after Saturday's game that he sees on the film how Rodgers releases the ball sooner when he's throwing it to Jordy really opened my eyes. I knew their chemistry was special. That tells me it's extraordinary.

Dave from Catonsville, MD

I've heard mealy mouthed Ted Thompson/Mike McCarthy detractors claim "winning the weakest division in the NFC isn't enough." Please correct me if I'm wrong, but in the seven, soon to be eight, consecutive years the Packers have made it into the playoffs, the NFC North has sent another team with them six times. How exactly does that qualify the NFC North as "the weakest division"?

Your facts are correct. If you know what you know, why are you listening to mealy mouths?

Chris from Katy, TX

Insiders, how does the NFL determine which games will be played on Saturday or Sunday during the playoffs?

The Saturday night and late Sunday afternoon slots are the biggest for ratings, so the matchups factor in. The different networks might request which game(s) they want. The NFC North winner might be given consideration for a Sunday slot coming off the night game. It all gets mashed up and sorted out.

David from Burlington, WI

During the Vikings game I noticed a few plays where either Ripkowski or Michael was split wide. What are your thoughts on the logic of that? Is Coach putting it on tape for future wrinkles?

McCarthy has done this over the years with Kuhn and Lacy, too. It's about seeing how the defense reacts. Someone has to go out there in coverage, so how do the matchups across the board look after seeing that commitment? It's harder to tell who's responsible for the running back when he lines up in the backfield all the time.

Shane from Dubuque, IA

I think Aaron Rodgers' comments about being in a different headspace and the game slowing down is interesting going forward in the sense of how long can that last? It appears he is as hot as he's ever been, and it's hard not to compare this season to 2010. Just get in and see what happens.

Works for me.

Joseph from Natick, MA

In 2013, the Packers were chasing the Bears for a division title, while on the road during Week 17. At the time I was deployed to Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan. Luckily for me, the game was being aired on the Armed Forces Network and I set my alarm for a very early 0100 kickoff. I will remember this game for the rest of my life, one because of the dramatic ending to clinch the division, and two because I was able to cheer on a Packers victory from a war zone. When others may have lost hope for this season after the four-game skid, I've remained optimistic because of this memory, and also because of how closely these two Week 17 matchups resemble each other.

I hope you're in safer territory this time without the need to set an alarm for kickoff. God bless.

Brian from Columbus, OH

Hi, I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that T.J. Lang has been breaking down the team after wins in the locker room. Has he always been a vocal leader or is this something that has started recently?

Lang is definitely a team leader, but you might have seen Lane Taylor do it recently, not Lang twice. The Packers select different captains each week, and one of those captains is assigned to break the team down in the locker room before and after the game. The Packers only select "permanent" captains for the playoffs.

Matt from Norway, MI

Just wondering, since Detroit is only about a 50-minute flight from Green Bay, and the game doesn't start until 7:30 p.m., will the team just sleep in their own beds Saturday night and depart for Detroit on Sunday morning? Keep up the good work, fellas.

The team flight will be Saturday afternoon, as it normally is for a Sunday game, regardless of kickoff time. The only time McCarthy has changed that travel routine has been, occasionally, with West Coast road trips.

Ryan from Santee, CA

Besides Stafford, who are the Packers' biggest challenges?

The Lions have five different players with 50-plus pass receptions this season, so he'll go to anyone at anytime. Stafford's 93.1 passer rating isn't the best of his career, but I think he's having his best season given the adjustment to life without Calvin Johnson.

Paul from Ellensburg, WA

Hey fellas, here's my playoff dream scenario. After defeating the Lions and winning the North, we knock off the Giants and then take down the Cowboys. Next is an NFC grudge match/redemption win over the Seahawks as we step into the Super Bowl to face either the Chiefs (50 years after Super Bowl I) or the Steelers (just to cement the 2010 comparisons for all-time). What's your dream scenario?

Beat the Lions.

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