COMMENTARY | Not many people believed the Detroit Lions would be 1 1/2 games ahead of the Green Bay Packers through four weeks of football, but that's exactly where we stand heading into this NFC North matchup.
Then again, we're only through four weeks of football, and the Packers have 13 games left on the schedule with plenty of time to right the ship. A 2-1 start would have been ideal considering the two difficult road games Green Bay has already played, but it let one slip away against the Cincinnati Bengals before the bye week.
The Lions stand at an impressive 3-1, easily dispatching two in-division opponents, including a 40-32 victory -- the score doesn't do it justice -- over the Chicago Bears last Sunday.
It's a pivotal game for both teams, as the Packers would rather not fall to 1-3 and the Lions want to prove that they're for real. Here are five things to follow closely when Detroit takes on Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
Packers vs. Hamstrings
It might sound silly, but it's anything but -- hamstring injuries have been detrimental for Green Bay not only this season, but in recent years as well.
Strained hamstrings have kept out nickel corner Casey Hayward and safety Morgan Burnett -- Burnett will return to the lineup this week -- all season, and they have also forced linebacker Clay Matthews, special teams ace Jarrett Bush and fullback John Kuhn to miss time.
Four players who were sidelined by hamstring issues should return against the Lions, and how well they are able to respond -- especially Matthews and Burnett -- will be crucial.
Detroit Front Four vs. Green Bay Offensive Line
The Lions have a pretty darn good front four, led by defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. They are always a handful, no matter which team they're going up against, and a rather inexperienced Green Bay offensive line will be tested once again.
Fortunately for the Packers, their strength is inside the tackles with Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang at each guard position, and Green Bay has not only run the ball better than anyone expected, but the line has protected Aaron Rodgers fairly well.
If Detroit is able to have success rushing solely with its front four, that will allow the Lions to drop more players back in coverage and make life difficult for Rodgers.
Can Lions Snap Winless Streak in Wisconsin?
Not since 1991 have the Lions won a game in the state of Wisconsin. That's a 21-year winless streak against the Packers when playing away from home, a truly mindboggling statistic.
During that drought, Detroit has rarely been a formidable team, but this year, it appears the Lions are a force to be reckoned with. While they have taken care of both the Vikings and the Bears already, both of those games took place at Ford Field in Detroit.
Surely, this infamous streak will come to a head someday, but the Packers hope that day isn't Oct. 6, as they already find themselves in a hole in the NFC North.
What Impact Will Returning Players Have?
It's been two weeks since we've seen the Packers on the field, and even longer since Burnett, Kuhn, Bush and Eddie Lacy (concussion) have suited up for Green Bay. All four are expected to be back this week as well as Matthews, Jermichael Finley (concussion) and Johnathan Franklin (foot), who all exited last Sunday's game at Cincinnati.
That's seven players returning to action for the Packers, and that will provide a huge boost to a team that desperately needed a bye week to get healthier. How rusty some may be could impact how much they are able to impact the game, but with Green Bay ranking near the bottom of the league in sacks and interceptions, getting Matthews and Burnett back is crucial.
Packers Secondary vs. Calvin Johnson
Without Nate Burleson, the Lions' second-leading receiver, even more attention will be focused on Calvin Johnson, one of the top receivers in the game. Detroit somehow managed to maneuver around this issue last Sunday against the Bears, winning handedly despite Megatron catching only four passes for 44 yards.
The Green Bay secondary, which has had its moments this season, will get stronger with the return of Burnett, who should provide some over-the-top help to both Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. Conceivably, if the Packers can contain Johnson, they will have a great chance of pulling out a victory.
Then again, that wasn't how it worked out for the Bears, which is why the Packers need to hope the other things to watch for fall their way on Sunday.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.
You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
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