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Linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews are the big names on the Packers' defense. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are both in the top 12 among cornerbacks in average annual value of their contracts. Rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has one of the strangest names in the NFL.

Yet, one other name kept coming up this week when the Lions discussed Green Bay's defense — defensive end Mike Daniels.

"He should one of the big-name guys," Lions left guard Rob Sims said. "I think he's one of the best out there. In my opinion, he's really good. He's just unique. His strength is unique, his natural leverage and he's always a test."

The Lions' matchup against the Packers front seven will be of the utmost importance Sunday. With center Dominic Raiola suspended, the Lions will rely on rookie Travis Swanson in the middle of a line that's already allowed 43 sacks, a career high for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

At 6-foot, 305 pounds, Daniels is short for a defensive lineman, making his leverage and strength even more important. Lions players also noted his high motor as something that jumps out on film.

In the Packers' 3-4 scheme, his primary objective is to help stuff the run while Matthews and Peppers attack the quarterback, but Daniels has 4.5 sacks this year.

"I think he's very underrated," Swanson said. "To be completely honest, I didn't know anything about him until I got here and started watching film."

The Packers (11-4) host the Lions (11-4) in a game that will decide the NFC North at Lambeau Field Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

Sims will draw the primary duty of blocking Daniels. After an admittedly rough start to the season, Sims has played well recently. Pro Football Focus has given him a positive grade in five straight games, and he's allowed just three quarterback hurries in that stretch after giving up 18 the first 10 games.

"I think I hit my stride," Sims said. "I think I had a couple rough games in the beginning of the year and really got back to what I do."

Sims is healthy and comfortable again after dealing with a knee injury through much of 2013, and how he and the rest of the offensive line perform Sunday will be a huge determinant in which team wins the NFC North.

In addition to keeping Stafford upright, the Lions will surely try to establish the run against a Packers defense ranking 22nd in rush defense. The cold weather also makes the deployment of physical running back Joique Bell that much more likely.

And in order to run the ball, the Lions will have to move Daniels, who's continued to improve in his third year out of Iowa, the alma mater of Lions coach Jim Caldwell.

"His quickness, his tenacity is really outstanding. I mean, the guy can go," Caldwell said. "And he comes from a great school as well so he knows how to work hard and how to fight and how to challenge. He's a quality player."

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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