What to watch for in Lions-Packers on 'MNF'

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  • By Grant Gordon NFL.com
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At the genesis of the NFL's sixth week, the NFC North stood tall as the only division in which teams from top to bottom boasted winning records.

To conclude the week, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (4-1) will host Matthew Stafford and the Lions (2-1-1) with first place in the north for the taking as Monday Night Football kicks off at 8:15 p.m. ET from Lambeau Field on ESPN.

Neither team made the postseason last year and yet here we are with both vying for the top spot, hoping to separate themselves from the Bears, the reigning champions, and the Vikings.

While Stafford and Rodgers are still synonymous with their respective franchises, the Packers have a new-look defense that's stepped into the forefront and the Lions have underrated talent that's beginning to get its due.

Running backs Aaron Jones and Kerryon Johnson are coming off huge games.

Talent is everywhere on both sides of the ball.

The Packers produced an emphatic win over the Cowboys in Week 5, while the Lions have had a bye week to get in extra preparation.

It's a big one in Wisconsin between a pair of old foes who have perhaps surprisingly become new contenders.

Here are four things to watch for in Monday's clash for the top spot in the NFC North:

Can Detroit take the next big step under the bright lights of Monday night?

The Lions are a thirsty bunch, having never won a Super Bowl, their championship drought extends all the way back to the NFL Championship Game of 1957. Their last division crown was claimed in 1993. That was the NFC Central championship by the way, as they have never won an NFC North banner.

As this game concludes the Week 6 slate, it's still too premature to contemplate just how close Detroit is to being a contender, but this is a crucial game for the Lions going forward.

This is the first division game for the Lions, while the Packers, Bears and Vikings have already played each other. Those same three teams have each won an NFC North title over the last three seasons, with the Lions left searching even though they've won four in a row against Green Bay.

Success against the Packers has come in recent years for the Lions, but this is an improved Pack. This also seems to be an improved pride, as well.

Sometimes numbers and results have little to do with perception and the Matthew Stafford-led Lions have long been regarded as a team that will pull off an upset here and there -- remember when they beat the eventual Super Bowl champs last season -- but they're also a long shot for the playoffs and likely to hover around seven or eight victories. Maybe? Probably?

First place is on the line after six weeks for the Lions and it comes in prime time with all the NFL universe tuning in. This is a chance for Detroit to truly introduce itself as a player in 2019 and a contender for its first NFC North title.

Which version of Aaron Rodgers will emerge against the Lions?

Through his decorated career, Aaron Rodgers has tamed the Lions to an extraordinary extent.

Across 18 career starts, Rodgers has produced a 13-5 record versus Detroit with a 109.0 rating. However, the Lions have won the last four games in the rivalry and Rodgers has started and finished just one of those games.

This season, Rodgers has thrown for less than 250 yards in all of the Packers' wins and for more than 250 in their only loss. The future Hall of Famer's 93.4 rating is his lowest since 2015.

So, does Rodgers having to do less bode well for the Packers? So far this season it has. However, over the last four losses to the Lions, Rodgers has played only a full game once -- he threw for 442 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 5 loss.

As Rodgers has produced moderate numbers by his previously phenomenal standards, the Packers have jumped out to a first-place start buoyed by a balanced offense and a suddenly sensational defense. As Aaron Jones piled up touchdowns in a Week 5 humbling of Dallas, Rodgers had season-lows of no touchdowns and an 85.2 quarterback rating without No. 1 receiver Davante Adams. Adams is out for Monday, as well.

So, will the Rodgers of old, who puts up gaudy numbers and dominates the Lions -- he has eight games of 300-plus yards against them -- show up for prime time? And do the Packers need him to? It's an interesting development on Monday night and for the franchise going forward.

Does Aaron Jones have an encore in him?

Bursts of brilliance marked Aaron Jones' first two seasons with the Packers. Injuries, suspension, shared playing time seemed to prevent the talented tailback from truly breaking out and fulfilling his potential.

In a showcase game if ever there was one, Jones shined on Sunday afternoon in a win over the Cowboys with a four-touchdown showing.

As Week 6 beckoned, Jones strode in with a league-high eight rushing touchdowns, which already matches his total from a season prior.

Jones, who actually has 302 yards rushing on 78 carries for a career-low 3.9 yards per carry, has become a bigger factor catching the ball, too, as he's tallied 19 catches, which is already closing in on his career-high of 26 last season. Opposing him is a Lions defense that has already allowed big games from the Cardinals' David Johnson, the Chargers' Austin Ekeler and the Eagles' Miles Sanders.

Against the Cowboys, Jones also netted a career-best 182 scrimmage yards and now has a chance to become the first Packers player with back-to-back games of 150-plus scrimmage yards since Ahman Green in 2003.

Jamaal Williams is also set to return to the Packers backfield, so the question presents itself as to whether Jones' role will be lessened.

Was Jones' wild ride against the Cowboys merely another burst of brilliance or a foreshadowing of more sustained greatness.

Will Kerryon Johnson carry on the rushing production so long needed in Detroit?

At one point in time, Barry Sanders, the one-man spectacle that he was, produced 1,000-yard rushing campaigns as regularly as he did highlight-reel romps that left silly would-be tacklers wondering in his wake.

Now however, the Lions haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013 -- which ended a previous dry spell that extended to Kevin Jones in 2004.

Coming off a season-high 125 yards in Week 4 against the Chiefs, Kerryon Johnson is on pace to eclipse the 1,000-yard barrier. He was on pace to do so in a terrific rookie campaign, too, but ended with 641 yards after 10 games due to a season-ending injury.

It's a new NFL world and 1,000-yard rushers aren't nearly as abundant -- there were only nine last season -- with the committee approach the preferred route. Hence, the ceremony of reaching the mark isn't likely the most important thing for the Lions, but the sustained production from Johnson that would become of it is.

Though Detroit lost to the Chiefs, it's arguable that the close defeat was the most impressive outing yet for Detroit and certainly Johnson as it lent legitimacy to them going forward.

A healthy and productive Johnson bodes very well for the Lions and if he follows up his season-best outing in impressive fashion, that's not just a Monday night highlight, but a reason to watch the Lions carry on.

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