NFL Week 18 Sunday Preview
By David McDonnell
I hope the Seattle Seahawks lose against the LA Rams later today because I want to see another do-or-die clash when the Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions.
How things stand in the NFC playoff position are as follows: Only one of Green Bay, Seattle and Detroit, in that order, can progress to the postseason and two of the hopefuls, the Packers and Lions, compete against one another at Lambeau Field at 1.30 am (GMT) later tonight.
Should the Seahawks beat their NFC West divisional rivals, the Rams, then only Green Bay can overtake them in the seedings with a victory. However, should the Seahawks fail to win then the winner of the Lions v Packers will be playing football next weekend.
I hope you can follow that.
Lions v Packers
The last time these sides met was on November 6th when the one-win Lions gave Aaron Rodgers one of his toughest days in the green and gold with a 15-9 victory. At the time no one expected that the Packers with a record of 3-6 and playing terribly would make the playoffs.
I certainly didn’t. That the Lions would be on the cusp of achieving the same feat was unthinkable at the time. I remember Dan Campbell at the after-match press conference saying he wanted to go home and drink a beer, after snapping a five game losing streak when some critics were calling for his head.
But Dan Campbell is made of stern stuff and so is Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has sharpened up to look as good as he has done for much of the last decade and a half.
So where has it gone right for both sides? Let’s start with the Packers.
The emergence of rookie Christian Watson at wide receiver has been a huge factor and he has racked up nine touchdowns since that loss to Detroit in November. With huge speed after the catch, Watson has the potential to hit a home run on every play. Green Bay have leaned heavily on their run game with Arron Jones and AJ Dillon making telling contributions and the return from injury of David Bakhtiari at left tackle has also been a significant addition in recent weeks.
However, in the last few games the Green Bay defence has woken up and is making the telling contribution.
It starts up front where they are starting to put pressure on opposing QBs and I have been banging on all season about the talent they have across their linebackers and defensive backs. All of a sudden the Packers D are playing as a unit and competing hard and in particular Jaire Alexander at corner-back and rookie linebacker Quay Walker have stepped up.
If the Green Bay defence continues to do excel, they could be a potential Superbowl outsider from the NFC.
Tonight, the Detroit Lions’ scorching attack stands in their way.
There is a feeling of optimism around this Detroit team that I have never felt with the Lions before and many of their standout talents are still young in NFL terms.
The strength of this team is their offence. The Lions O-line has been the bedrock of this attack and they have had huge success running the ball. The are anchored at centre by former first-round pick Frank Ragnow and bookended by tackles Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell, who were also drafted as first round talents in recent years. They have allowed their running backs to make hay.
Their best RB is D’Andre Swift who has clocked up 845 all purpose yards and eight touchdowns, while his partner in crime Jamaal Williams has accrued 994 yards and 15 touchdowns.
This team can beat you from the pocket as well and Jared Goff has had a resurgent career year by putting the ball on the money for his receivers throughout the season. In his last five games, Goff has thrown 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions. His best weapon is Amon Ra St Brown, who has become an NFL superstar this season and they have just got the 12th overall pick in the 2022 draft, Jamison Williams, back from injury in recent weeks.
The Lions will be comfortable if the game turns into a shootout. It is when they have been at their best this season.
On defence, their best players are their youngest players with rookies Aiden Hutchinson, Kerby Joseph and Malcolm Rodriguez adding to other young talents in Jeff Okudah at corner and Derrick Barnes at linebacker. They are not the finished package on defence by nay means and they will be coming up against a better Aaron Rodgers than the one who didn’t throw a touchdown pass in November.
This game could go either way and to be honest I am expecting a shootout. It should be fun to watch and worth staying up for. I’ll call the Packers to win in front of a packed home audience, as I feel their defence has more playmakers that could make the difference in the fourth quarter.
There is still one place to play for in the AFC after the Jaguars beat the Titans last night to win the AFC South.
In the running are the Patriots, Dolphins, and Steelers, who play the Bills, Jets and Browns respectively.
After a very difficult week in Buffalo, I can’t see any team beating the Bills this weekend in what should be a very emotional game after Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the field last Monday. I think it will have a galvanizing effect on the team and their supporters coupled with the fact that they are a much stronger team than the Pats at the moment.
It should be well contested but New England lacks the firepower to cause too much damage to the Bills. I would be surprised if Bill Belichick can pull out a win given the circumstances and I don’t usually write off the old man.
That leaves the Dolphins, with Skyler Thompson at quarterback, needing to beat the New York Jets. I wouldn’t be very confident that Miami will win but the Jets are very poor on offence right now. I am not in any way convinced by Mike White at quarterback. But with Joe Flacco starting, it will make things trickier but I expect the Dolphins to pull out a win because their need is greater.
Should they lose, it leaves the door open for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who should be able to account for the Browns. The Steelers have been getting healthier and more experienced by the week and they are in a much stronger place than they have been all season with their D-line balling out and rookie QB Kenny Pickett looking more comfortable by the week under centre.
Of the three hopefuls, I’d like to see the Steelers in the postseason.