Though their bye week seemed to come at a good time, the Green Bay Packers are still plenty banged up.
Far from full strength despite a week off, the Packers can win a fifth straight game Sunday as it visits the Detroit Lions, who can't afford many more disappointments if they plan on returning to the playoffs.
Recent history favors Green Bay, which is 11-1 against the Lions under coach Mike McCarthy.
A string of four consecutive wins has the Packers (6-3) within one game of Chicago for first place in the NFC North. They went into the bye after a 31-17 victory over Arizona on Nov. 4, then McCarthy gave the team the entire week off.
It was sorely needed, with the likes of Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson already injured, not to mention Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson and Bryan Bulaga all getting hurt against the Cardinals. While Woodson (collarbone) remains sidelined, Bulaga (hip) became the 11th Packer to be placed on injured reserve Monday. Matthews (hamstring) was ruled out for this game and it does not appear Jennings (groin) will return, though Nelson (ankle) practiced Wednesday and could play.
Considering the Packers have already overcome many injuries to bounce back from a 2-3 start, they seem to be in good position to begin the stretch run. Five of their final seven games are against NFC North opponents, with Sunday's game giving them an opportunity for a franchise record ninth straight divisional win.
"I like where we're at," said Aaron Rodgers, whose 107.4 passer rating ranks second in the NFL behind Peyton Manning. His 25 touchdown passes are tied with Drew Brees for the league lead.
Rodgers is 6-1 against the Lions with 16 passing TDs compared to four interceptions.
"We've had some adversity early in the season. We've come together, we've taken some heat and it's brought us closer together," Rodgers said.
"We've got a lot of guys who, if we can have back in the mix, we can really take off."
A two-game win streak for the Lions (4-5) came to an end Sunday with a 34-24 loss at Minnesota.
Detroit can take some comfort in five of its final seven games coming at home, but the list of opponents is less than comfortable: Green Bay twice along with Houston, Indianapolis, Arizona, Atlanta, and Chicago. The only team among that group which doesn't have a winning record is the Cardinals.
"We don't have a whole lot of wiggle room for mistakes down the stretch. We have to play our best," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It's life in the NFL. You have to do that all the time."
The Lions' defense is ranked 10th in the league at 329.7 yards per game but was awful when it last faced the Packers. Detroit allowed 550 yards in a 45-41 loss to close the 2011 regular season even though Rodgers didn't play.
Last Sunday's performance might not give the Lions much confidence. They allowed 171 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson, let Christian Ponder complete 24 of 32 passes and watched Minnesota post its highest point total of the season.
Schwartz defended the unit, highlighting the play of tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh.
"Nick had one of the best games he's played since he's been here, but a lot like the rest of our team, a couple mistakes overshadowed the good things that he did," Schwartz said. "I thought Ndamukong Suh might have played the best game he's played since he's been here."
Green Bay could take advantage of a vulnerable run defense after a surprisingly strong showing against Arizona. The Packers ran for 176 yards, their most since netting 202 against Cleveland on Oct. 25, 2009. They had four players - Rodgers, Randall Cobb, James Starks and Alex Green - record at least 25 rushing yards for the first time since 2003.
The Lions lead the league with 307.3 passing yards per game, and Calvin Johnson is coming off his finest performance of the season with 12 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown. But they want to buck a trend of slow starts that has forced them to play from behind and rely so much on that passing attack.
Detroit's first-half scoring differential is minus-23, tied for 27th. They've tied or trailed entering the final period in all but one game this season, but own a plus-28 advantage in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay, which has won 20 of the last 23 meetings with Detroit, is 5-1 after the bye week under McCarthy.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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