As the season progresses, the stakes keep getting higher every week. It was all fun and games in Week 1 when the Lions upset the Chiefs all the way back on the first TNF of the year … only for the reigning champions to recover quickly and put themselves above .500 before the end of September.
Now, entering Week 4, divisional races are starting to take shape and the one taking place in the NFC North has a pivotal matchup on Thursday. The Lions (2-1) and the Green Bay Packers (2-1) will overtake whoever loses and put quite some distance above the winless Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.
The Lions enter this divisional contest as the road favorites by 1.5 points, which probably wouldn’t be the case in a frozen tundra had this game happened in December. That said, that’s a tiny spread in a game that could easily be decided by the tiniest of margins. There is a total of 44.5 points, which isn’t the largest in the full Week 4 slate but a reasonably high one across the league.
How do the Lions and Packers arrive at their TNF matchup?
If you look past what has happened this season exclusively, then you’ll find out the Lions have gotten the best of the Packers the last three times they’ve met each other, since January 2022.
This year, more than their own results, it’s worth noting how the incompetence of both the Vikings and the Bears has left the door wide open for the Lions and the Packers to simply focus on fighting each other for the NFC North title — and a postseason berth. While you can’t win the Super Bowl in September, you can start to lose it and the two 0-3 teams in the division are pretty much out of the race for the postseason already.
The Lions kicked off the regular season building on their strong finish to the 2022 season and beating the Chiefs. They then lost to the Seahawks in overtime one week later before rebounding with a stout defensive effort last Sunday against the Falcons, handing Atlanta its first loss of the season.
Green Bay finally named Jordan Love its starting quarterback after he spent three seasons as Aaron Rodgers' understudy — and a single game of experience as the starter all the way back in November 2021. It’s been a bit of an up-and-down start to the season for Love, but he’s been good enough to keep the Packers above .500, losing one game by a measly point to the Falcons on the road two weeks ago.
TNF Week 4: Injury Report
Both Lions and Packers have been forced to navigate the first few games of the season with some of their starters injured or suspended.
Detroit has gone through the first three weeks of the season without having WR Jameson Williams available after getting suspended by the NFL, and he won’t make it to the field until Week 7 at the earliest. WR Amon-Ra St. Brown was questionable for Week 1, but he ended up playing and excelling.
Of late, the Lions lost RB David Montgomery for Week 3 after the former Bears rusher had taken on the RB1 role for the first couple of weeks, rushing the rock 37 times for 141 yards. With Montgomery out, rookie RB Jahmyr Gibbs put up season-high numbers for rushing attempts (17) and yards (80) last Sunday.
Detroit’s S C.J. Gardner-Johnson is probably out for the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle while DE James Houston and DL Josh Paschal entered IR ahead of last Sunday. The Lions are welcoming back LT Taylor Decker, CB Emmanuel Moseley, LE Jonah Jackson and S Kerby Joseph, who started the week practicing in a limited capacity but should be on the field on TNF.
It’s been a similar story for the Packers, with multiple key players missing, mostly on the offensive side of the game.
WR Christian Watson has yet to make his debut this season after missing the first three games with a hamstring injury but he looks ready to go. RB Aaron Jones left the field midway through Week 1 and has yet to return, though he will do so on TNF. Both players are probably going to be eased into the system slowly starting this week, so tame your expectations as they might fall a bit below their standards.
The offensive line of the Packers has been ravaged this season, with LT David Bakhtiari, LG Elgton Jenkins and RT Zach Tom either missing or getting injured last Sunday’s outing. Not that Love needed them that much in the 18-point, fourth-quarter comeback he put together on his way to beat the Saints in Week 3.
On defense, CB Jaire Alexander and CB Carrington Valentine are expected to play after having practiced earlier this week. S Zayne Anderson and LB De’Vondre Campbell are in a little bit more muddy waters missing early-week walkthroughs while nursing their own injuries.
One stat that can swing the balance
The Lions have the fifth-best defense against the run … but it might be worth nothing against the Packers' game plan
If something helped the Lions stop Atlanta in their tracks last weekend, it was their run defense. Detroit boasts the fifth-best unit when it comes to stopping rushers, limiting opposing offenses to a measly 3.2 yards per attempt.
In the fantasy realm, the Lions have allowed the third-fewest rushing yards (152) to running backs for an average of 2.9 per carry, fourth-best in the NFL. Ask rookie phenom Bijan Robinson, who attempted a run 10 times last Sunday and finished the day with a paltry 33 yards against the stiff Lions defense.
The Packers might deploy Aaron Jones on all of their offensive snaps, or they might not. No matter what, though, they likely won't need Jones to be a force on TNF.
That is because 1) they have missed Jones for two and a half games and still looked great and 2) Jordan Love is slowly but surely becoming a winning gunslinger through the air with Green Bay relying heavily on pass plays.
Love only has the 19th-most pass attempts among starters in the NFL, and has yet to break the 100-attempt barrier. He has racked up the 18th-most passing yards and completed only 53.1% of his throws … yet he has already tossed seven touchdowns (tied for third-most) against a single interception.
With such a bombs-away quarterback letting it fly from the pocket and somehow making things work for this offense (which has yet to feature its No. 1 wide receiver in Christian Watson) ... who needs to try and test a defense that has proved to be stout at stopping the run?
Two players to start, one to leave on your bench
Start: TE Sam LaPorta (DET)
I was wrong and I accept it. Back in the first preview of the TNF games this season, I told you to bench rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. Historically, that made sense.
Now, not so much.
LaPorta is the first player at the position in NFL history to grab at least five passes in each of his first three games as a pro. He racked up a silly 84 yards last Sunday while hauling in eight receptions. He also scored his first-ever touchdown. And before that, he amassed 39 and 63 yards, respectively.
The rookie tight end is going to project as a top-12 player at the position going forward and three games are starting to become a reasonably large sample to trust him. If you drafted LaPorta late in your draft as a break-in-case-of-emergency tight end, this TNF looks like a great opportunity to deploy him as your TE1.
Bonus tip: The Packers allowed three receptions and 20 yards to Saints’ tight ends on Sunday … including a touchdown pass to 36-year-old (!) Jimmy Graham.
Start: QB Jordan Love (GB)
The Packers defeated the Saints on Sunday and they did so by scoring 18 unanswered points through the fourth quarter alone after falling behind, 0-17. And they did it thanks to a composed first-year starter at the quarterback position who couldn’t count on the help of his best rusher (Jones) and pass catcher (Watson).
Love tossed 42 passes of which he completed 22 for 259 yards. Of those yards, 80 came after those passes were caught by the receivers and only one completion ended in a touchdown. That’s Love in a nutshell for you, folks.
The new head-honcho of the Packers' pocket also scored another touchdown rushing (39 yards on nine carries), and even though the version of Love that we saw in Week 3 wasn't as great for fantasy GMs as the one he showed in the first two games (three touchdown passes in each of them), Love still made the top-10 in fantasy points at the position — making it three consecutive top-10 finishes this season.
As highlighted above, the Lions are coming off limiting the Falcons to a rather ugly rushing game in which they could do nothing, even with the best rookie rusher to grace the NFL in quite some time. Atlanta’s QB Desmond Ridder, whom you would never call a world-beater, went 21-for-38 and 201 yards against Detroit last weekend.
This is a match made in heaven for Love and the Packers, who will also have a much stronger offense on TNF with Jones and Watson back on the field.
Bench: RB AJ Dillon (GB)
This is something you should do no matter if Aaron Jones plays or not (but he's expected to do so). Back in Week 1, when Jones was available, he racked up 41 rushing yards on nine carries and also got to score a receiving touchdown on just two receptions and a monster 86 yards.
Dillon split time with him in the backfield and although he got more opportunities and touches (13 carries, three targets and two receptions) he only mustered 36 yards from scrimmage and no scores.
Dillon was the RB1 of the Packers the last two games, but he only logged one reception for eight yards and 88 rushing yards on 26 carries combined through the last couple of outings.
There were some hopes about Dillon playing nicely and earning a bigger role going forward amid Jones' return, but that doesn't look any closer to happening with his mediocre outings of late. In fact, it might happen in terms of volume, but the production has been so bad that it makes no sense to bet on Dillon anymore.
Dillon is averaging 2.7 yards per carry, the third-lowest figure among the 23 RBs with 39+ carries through Week 3 and he’s one of only three players in that group to not score a touchdown.
Three players to scout as prospective waiver-wire pickups
WR Romeo Doubs, Green Bay Packers (52% rostered)
I was going to make the call for starting Doubs, but with Watson expected to play on TNF (even if limited or on a pitch count) it makes more sense to consider Doubs a deep-league/borderline start this week and most probably someone to only keep on your radar and check on after we watch this offense operate with all of their weapons available.
Doubs has 20 targets through three games and is tied for the most among Green Bay players. He only trails teammate Jayden Reed in total yards (129 to 148), but Doubs has scored three touchdowns (team leader) and has 11 receptions (tied for the most with TE Luke Musgrave). Keep in mind that Doubs only took around 50% of the Week 1 snaps, then 75%, and he only played at full health in Week 3 after nursing an early-season hamstring injury.
While Doubs can be considered a little bit volatile and he’s been touchdown-dependent, that’s why he’s still available in almost half of fantasy leagues entering Week 4. Doubs is a boom/bust type of player, but if he clicks on TNF he would have built a strong enough resume for him to be considered a good fantasy option going forward.
TE Luke Musgrave, Green Bay Packers (35% rostered)
Consider rookie Luke Musgrave your Sam LaPorta Lite in terms of production and availability in most fantasy leagues. Musgrave has scored half of LaPorta’s points through Week 3 and he’s rostered in only 35% percent of Yahoo leagues compared to LaPorta’s 90%.
But keeping in mind that both players are rookies, that tight ends coming out of college tend to go through some growing pains and that LaPorta is just a historical outlier, Musgrave doesn’t look that bad at all when compared to the Lions' pass catcher.
Musgrave leads all Packers' pass catchers with 157 snaps (Doubs is second at a distant 135) and has been targeted 15 times already. He’s hauled in 11 of those targets for 124 yards, and although he’s not scored a touchdown yet he’s one of only eight players at the position to have reached those targets, receptions and yards through Week 3. From 2010 on, only six tight ends have started their careers with those numbers, including Musgrave, LaPorta, Greg Dulcich, Kyle Pitts, Evan Engram and Aaron Hernandez.
Not bad for a barely rostered player.
WR Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers (24% rostered)
Rookie Jayden Reed had a tough debut at Chicago when he caught only two passes on five targets (for 48 yards, mind you), but he’s put up back-to-back strong outings, catching four and three passes, respectively, and most importantly getting eight and seven targets in the last two games. Reed also grabbed two touchdowns a couple of weeks ago against the Falcons.
Watson is coming back and Doubs has looked more than solid, so we might have to wait a bit to know more about who’s who in this offense going forward as the season keeps advancing. That said, Love has built a strong and quick rapport with Reed, targeting him 20 times already, tied for the most among Packers pass-catchers. Let’s see how Watson’s presence changes that share, and go from there.