It’s that time of year again where we’ve hit the off-season workouts and training camp is beginning. Teams are starting to see the potential talent in their rookies, and what’s left in the tank for their veterans. The Detroit Lions are no different in that respect. They have the same uncertainties that every team faces each offseason. The front office who made the picks sit at the edge of their seats watching as their investments start to pay out. Everybody has the same question: “How much are we going to get out of these rookies?” The coaching staff is working tirelessly to squeeze as much out of their players. This is all while trying to force feed as much information possible into them. So, how do the Lions stack up against the rest of the NFC North? Let’s run down the list.
How the Detroit Lions Stack Up in the NFC North
Chicago’s pride and joy, the Bears, are on pace to have yet another disappointing season. Using the word disappointing here may actually be too nice. The Bears currently do not have a starting caliber quarterback. If that’s not bad enough, they also let their best receiver, Alshon Jeffery, leave for the Eagles. If there’s one shining star on this Bears roster, it’s at the running back position. They have two players who can make things happen on the field in Jordan Howard and Jeremy Langford. Other than the running back group, this team does not have much going for it.
John Fox is now working with a rookie quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and Mike Glennon, and an unproven receiving group, but adding Kendall Wright does help. Neither of those two quarterback names are going to keep opposing defensive backs up at night. Not much to be excited about on the offensive side of the ball.
It’s not hard to like the Lions’ chances of taking both games against this Bears team. That offense doesn’t have much that can burn the Lions defense, so scoring may be tough for the Bears in this matchup. The Lions defense is likely going to be improved with the additions in the draft of Teez Tabor and Jarrad Davis. It’s also wrong to discount the production of guys like Glover Quin and Darius Slay. Both of those guys are in the upper echelon in the league in their respective positions. With a (hopefully) bounce back year coming from Ezekiel Ansah; the Lions defense should do well against this Bears team.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears defense was exactly middle of the road last year in total yardage. They were much better against the pass than the run, which would play into their hands against this Lions team. The Lions have struggled to run the ball for, well, since Barry Sanders retired it seems. The Bears pass defense was better than most last year. They did, however, lose Tracy Porter, but they hope to fill that hole by bringing in Prince Amukamara and Quinton Demps. There isn’t much else to be said about the Bears defense. They’re likely going to be middle of the road once again, and much better against the pass than the run. A Lions offense having a good day, however, should be able to score enough to win this game at home and on the road.
Sound the Gjallarhorn!
Ah yes, the famous (or infamous) Viking horn that hometown fans love, and road fans despise. The Minnesota Vikings started last year white hot before seemingly hitting a brick wall. A 6-1 start turned into a 2-7 finish. That is about as polarizing as it gets for a team that hoped to be atop the NFC North.
In the off-season the Vikings addressed the offense quite a bit, especially the run game that was non-existent in Adrian Peterson’s absence. Left in a tough spot having to replace AP this year, the Viking went and got Latavius Murray, and then drafted Dalvin Cook. I love both of these guys, and as a two-headed monster in the backfield, this is shaping up to be a scary good run game. The biggest question mark for this offense is going to be at the quarterback position. Teddy Bridgewater spent last year hurt. Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford were serviceable at best in his absence. That’s not exactly good enough to make the playoffs in the NFL anymore.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings were one of the best teams in the league in team defense. They had a fantastic pass defense and a decent run defense. It’s hard to complain about that as a coordinator. The run defense can afford to tighten up this year, but where the run defense gives in, the pass “D” steps up. This defense is likely going to be tough to score on even for some of the better offenses in the league. The only negative about this defense is that they really didn’t get any better in the off-season. Whereas rivals seemed to address needs offensively, this team did nothing to continue to build this defense. All off-season, resources were put into the offense, especially on the O-line. This may end up coming back to haunt this Vikings team.
This could be a tough matchup for the Lions. Obviously the Vikings success weighs heavily on the shoulders of the play and health of Teddy Bridgewater. The defense will still be able to keep them in games at times. I expect the Lions to split with a healthy Vikings team with each team winning at home. A rejuvenated run game and a solid defense could be troublesome for the Lions, but they still look like the better team on paper. If the Vikings struggle at all this year, look for another potential landslide that could result in the Lions taking both games.
Everybody Loves Those Cheeseheads
The Packers are somehow always pretty darn good. Even with a mediocre defense, and no natural running back of note on the roster, Aaron Rodgers carries this team to heights that many can only dream of. Last year, this Packers team took both games against the Lions. The first of which was headed towards a blowout before a late comeback effort made it a one possession game. But believe me when I say, that game was not that close. The second edition of this matchup was much closer. Both teams were fighting for division championship hopes and the playoffs were potentially on the line for both teams. Unfortunately for the Lions, they had to run into a version of Rodgers that I don’t think anyone has ever seen before.
The Packers saw themselves lose quite a number of playmakers on each side of the ball. Losing players like Jared Cook, Eddie Lacy, and T.J. Lang (to the Lions no less) is never a good sign to a team with championship hopes. But to ease some of those worries, the Packers made some moves to fill those exact holes that fans can be happy with. The Pack brought in Martellus Bennett who is, easily, one of the best tight ends in the league. As if Rodgers needed another big target to look for, they still went and got one for him.
The large hole left by Lang was filled with Jahri Evans. Evans is a suitable replacement for Lang who is coming off a serious injury going into this season. The biggest question mark for this Packers team will be in the running game. The Packers elected not to go after a running back in free agency, and also passed on several of them in the draft as well. This had a lot of fans scratching their heads as they will open the season with Ty Montgomery in the backfield. Montgomery is a converted wide out. He was solid at times in the backfield as a speedy threat, but he is by no means, a bell-cow back. This may end up playing into Rodgers hands; however, using him as a change of pace type back.
The defense for this Packers team has been mediocre for, seemingly, an eternity. Losing Sam Shields and Julius Peppers will not help that one bit. They did end up acquiring Kevin King in the draft to fill the gap left behind by Shields, but that likely isn’t enough. Expect teams to be able to score at will (as usual) against this Packers defense. They will still force a lot of turnovers; however, which will help them win many games. Having the ability to force the opposition into making mistakes will give even more opportunities for Rodgers to punish you. When it comes down to it, though, this defense is vulnerable in many places. Expect teams to take advantage of that.
The Lions will hope to split with the Packers this year. After being swept last season, they’re out for revenge. This is a better Lions team than last year, and the Packers, at best, maintained the status quo. If the Lions defense can find some way to slow Rodgers down at points in games, then they will have a chance to win. I expect the Lions to split the season series with each team winning at home. This is going to be the hardest fought rivalry in the division this year, so expect some high impact matchups with emotions flaring.
The Final Say
The NFC North is a tough division once again. There are three teams that have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. My expectations have the Lions going 3-2 in their division which I would say is a solid success. This is an improved Lions team over last year. The Lions’ are focused on improving the offensive line. Protect Matthew Stafford, and give him a chance to win you games. That’s always a recipe for success in the NFL. This year brings out a lot of hope for a Lions fan, as it should. The team may, finally, be looking at a division title when it’s all said and done.