Welcome to my final regular-season NFL preview for the 2016 season, although I'll certainly be here right through the Super Bowl as will other Doc's writers.
The NFL doesn't schedule a Sunday night game originally for Week 17 but leaves open a slot for NBC to flex into prime time. Needless to say, the goal is to have the most playoff relevant matchup for the biggest potential audience. And there's clearly no more important Week 17 game than Packers at Lions (both 9-6). By the time this game kicks off, the teams will know if the loser will miss the playoffs. That happens if Washington beats the visiting New York Giants in a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. Then the Redskins will take the NFC's final wild-card spot. And I fully expect Washington to win because the Giants are locked into the No. 5 spot in the conference and thus have nothing to play for. New York coach Ben McAdoo claims his starters will play, but he didn't say how long. I'd be stunned if they play more than a half. If Washington does lose, the Green Bay-Detroit loser gets a wild-card spot.
The Packers-Lions winner takes the NFC North title and gets at least one home playoff game. The Lions last won a division title in 1993 when it was the five-team NFC Central. Thus that's also the last year the franchise hosted a playoff game. Detroit could get all the way up to the No. 2 seed if Atlanta loses at home to New Orleans (doubtful) and Seattle loses in San Francisco (not happening). But in reality, the winner Sunday night is probably the No. 4 seed and will host the Giants next weekend.
One more thing: if the Packers and Lions tie, they will both get in with Green Bay as division champion. That's even if the Redskins win. There hasn't been a tie in a regular-season finale since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. But it did happen in the finale of a 14-game schedule and both involved the Packers: 1965 vs. 49ers and the year before vs. the Rams.
Packers at Lions Betting Story Lines
No disrespect to the Lions, but I can promise you that every other NFC playoff coach is rooting for a Redskins win and then a Detroit victory to keep the red-hot Packers out of the playoffs. We all know Aaron Rodgers can win in any stadium. It was Rodgers who told Packer Nation that he believed his team could run the table when it was sitting at 4-6 and on a four-game losing streak. Only three teams in the past 38 years had a losing record through 10 games but then won six consecutive to make the playoffs.
Rodgers is looking wise with his team on a five-game winning streak and Rodgers has thrust himself right into the MVP race. Currently at Bovada, he is +350 with Tom Brady. The favorites, a bit surprising to me, are Ezekiel Elliott (+225) and Matt Ryan (+250). Rodgers is completing around 70 percent of his passes in the winning streak with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He now leads the NFL with 36 TD throws, one ahead of Drew Brees and two up on Ryan. I'm not much of a Packers fan, but it's tough not to root for good-guy WR Jordy Nelson after he missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL. Nelson is certainly back, leading the NFL with 14 TD catches. He should win that title because second-place Antonio Brown (12) is expected to sit out Week 17. The Pack still don't have much of a running game, but former receiver Ty Montgomery has his moments there.
Speaking of MVP candidates, Lions QB Matthew Stafford was in the conversation. But then he tore ligaments in his middle finger while also dislocating it during a Week 14 comeback win over Chicago. Stafford wasn't sharp that game and hasn't been in the two since, a 17-6 loss at the Giants and then 42-21 in Dallas on Monday. The finger is clearly bothering him. Counting the Chicago game, Stafford is completing less than 60 percent of his throws with one TD and four picks in the past three. He hasn't had a rating better than 71.8. That's a problem considering the Lions can't run the ball, either. They rank 30th in the NFL. Detroit lost starting running back Ameer Abdullah early in the season. Presumed No. 2 Theo Riddick missed the Cowboys game with a wrist injury and is questionable for Sunday.
The Lions had been carried by their defense as it hadn't allowed more than 20 points to an opposing team since Oct. 16, but that all changed vs. the Cowboys. The unit wasn't full strength Monday as top cornerback Darius Slay was out with a hamstring injury, but he has been practicing, so that looks good. Sans Slay, Dallas QB Dak Prescott completed 75 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns. Lions CBs Nevin Lawson and Johnson Bademosi each drew pass-interference penalties while trying to cover Dez Bryant.
Packers at Lions Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Green Bay is a 3-point favorite (-120) with a total of 49.5. On the moneyline, the Packers are -175 and Lions +155. On the alternate lines, the Pack are -3.5 (+105) and -2.5 (-145). The Packers are 8-6-1 against the spread (3-4 on road) and 9-6 "over/under" (5-2 on road). The Lions are 8-7 ATS (5-2 at home) and 5-10 O/U (2-5 at home).
The Packers are 4-1 ATS in their past five after a win. They are 9-4 ATS in their past 13 January games. The Lions are 4-10 ATS in their past 14 vs. the NFC North. The over is 5-1 in Green Bay's past six vs. the NFC. The under is 8-1 in Detroit's past nine. The home team is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings. The under is 5-2 in the previous seven in Detroit.
Packers at Lions Betting Prediction
Green Bay jumped out to a 31-3 late second-quarter lead over the visiting Lions in Week 3 and won 34-27. Rodgers threw for four scores, two to Nelson. The Lions actually won the statistical battle as they nearly rallied. Stafford had 385 yards and three TDs.
In terms of preparation and rest, the Packers have a two-and-a-half day advantage over the Lions. That's because Green Bay played in an early home kickoff on Saturday in Week 16 and the Lions had that Monday night game in Dallas. Green Bay will be playing for the NFC North title in Week 17 for the fourth consecutive season. The Packers are 2-1 in the previous three games. They flunked a home test vs. Minnesota last year but won't in Detroit. The Packers have won each of the last four matchups vs. the Lions in the final game of the regular season. Give the 2.5 points and go under the total.
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