The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions entered the season harboring aspirations of an NFC North title. They will end it looking up at the rest of the division.
Other than draft positioning, there is nothing of consequence on the line for either team in the second matchup of the season on Sunday at Green Bay's Lambeau Field. Detroit has won three straight in the series after knocking off the Packers 31-23 in Week 5 and will look to sweep Green Bay for the second straight year.
The Lions (5-10) have lost seven of their last nine games and are assured of finishing in last place in the NFC North. The Packers (6-8-1) earned their first road victory of the season with an overtime win over the New York Jets last weekend but are locked into third place in the division.
Green Bay's disappointing season led to the firing of longtime head coach Mike McCarthy. Joe Philbin, who replaced McCarthy on an interim basis, pointed to a few reasons why it's important to finish the season on a winning note.
"The reality of it is some of these guys may never see each other the rest of their natural lives on Earth because things change in the National Football League, regardless of the win-loss record you had that particular year," said Philbin. "So just basically, let's enjoy the week. And really, they'll never regret finishing the season strong. I said, 'Guys, five years from now, you're not probably going to remember the score of the Jets game. But you'll remember the feelings you had in the locker room.'
"It didn't matter what the team's record was. It's still an awesome opportunity to go out there and compete and play in the National Football League. And to do it for the Green Bay Packers is, it's about as good as it gets."
The rosters will hardly resemble the ones from the first matchup, when Detroit bolted to a 24-point halftime lead and held off a belated second-half comeback by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
The Lions have scored 20 points or fewer in eight of their last nine games and have not eclipsed 17 points in each of their last five games. Detroit will be without three of its top offensive players in the rematch. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson and Marvin Jones Jr. are on injured reserve while wideout Golden Tate was traded to Philadelphia.
"You always go through it and say, 'All right, what were the problem plays? How did they attack us? What were the things that were an issue in the game?'" Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of reviewing the first matchup. "You try to understand what you do well in the game, and you've got to take that all into account. But you do 100 percent have to take a look at where the teams are now.
"It's really important to understand what the teams are currently with the players they have and the scheme, and what's worked for them recently and how they've been able to be productive, and try to understand that you have to defend that first."
In last week's 44-38 win, Rodgers turned in the second game of 400-plus passing yards, two-plus passing touchdowns and two-plus rushing touchdowns in NFL history. He also had the first such game, against Denver in 2011.
Rodgers threw a winning 16-yard touchdown pass in overtime to wide receiver Davante Adams, who enters the finale with 111 receptions for 1,386 yards and within reach of a pair of franchise records. Adams needs two catches to move past Sterling Sharpe for the most receptions and 134 yards to surpass Jordy Nelson (1,519) on the single-season list.
Matthew Stafford was 14 of 26 for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the previous meeting, but there are questions about his future in Detroit even though he is under contract for another four seasons. He's thrown for 3,511 yards and 19 touchdown passes and appears certain to finish with fewer than 4,000 yards passing for the first time since 2010.
Some of Stafford's struggles can be attributed to injuries -- he's played through a back injury the last three weeks -- and a lack of weapons at receiver. He was yanked in the fourth quarter of last week's 27-9 home loss to Minnesota, drawing cheers from some fans.
"Coach makes those decisions," Stafford said of being pulled from the game. "I always want to be out there. I understand where he's coming from with it. He knows what I'm dealing with and going through, so as far as fans' reaction, it doesn't make any difference to me."