Most NFL pundits are giving the Lions high marks for their offseason moves, and the general consensus seems to be that they have acquired better talent this year on both sides of the ball. The conventional wisdom around the league also seems to be that the Lions new coaching staff is an upgrade over the Marinelli crew.
Sometime around week 5 or 6 of the regular season, we will truly know if the Lions have indeed improved from last year, and until then we can only speculate. Still, it is hard to imagine how the team won’t be better than last year.
However, as much as I hate to throw cold water on that speculation, here goes. First off, the Lions could not get any worse, at least in terms of the Win/Loss column. Upgrading talent on a team that has been savaged by bad draft decisions for most of this century should not be too difficult. Second, and this is what is truly troubling, our division rivals – who started out from a much better position – have improved as well.
Chicago, taking advantage of the greatest head coaching blunder since “I’ll take the wind,” acquired Jay Cutler from the Broncos, potentially making them a complete team for the first time in decades. Some say that Cutler is not the real deal and he will be saddled with a lousy receiving corps.
To those I would ask how many thought that Eddie Royal would be a hot target before Cutler made him the second most productive rookie receiver in NFL history in terms of receptions (Number 1 is Anquan Bolden, in case you were curious). When you add a pro-bowl quarterback to a team that is stacked on defense and has one of the strongest emerging running backs in the league, the sky is the limit.
Green Bay seems to have accomplished one of the toughest feats in the NFL – transitioning from one franchise quarterback to another (if you want an example of just how difficult this can be, see “Lions, Detroit”). Aaron Rogers stepped in last year and proved that he is at the very least a journeyman talent, and could potentially be an elite passer.
Finishing the season with over 4,000 passing yards and a QB rating of 93.8, Packers fans will take another 10 years of that kind of performance with no complaints. In addition, they improved on a good defense by using two first round draft picks on top rated defensive tackle B.J. Raji and highly lauded linebacker Clay Matthews.
Minnesota is of course the center of the NFL’s longest running soap opera right now, and the star of “As the Favre Turns” could very well end up wearing purple this year. If so, it will give the Vikings a franchise quarterback for the first time since Culpepper’s glory years.
Add that to an elite running game (that could be improved even more with the acquisition of rookie Phil Loadholt at right tackle), a new receiving threat in Florida’s Percy Harvin, and a fearsome run defense, the only holes this team may have is their defensive secondary, which will suffer from the loss of Darren Sharper.
Despite the fact that the Bears made it to the 2007 Superbowl and the Packers nearly made it in 2008, the NFC North has not been considered an elite division for quite some time. That could change this year.
Although I count myself with the experts who feel that Detroit has made great strides in this offseason, I also feel that the NFL’s “Norris” division has gotten much better as a whole. Even though Detroit will hopefully grow toward respectability this year, they will likely remain the worst team in a rapidly improving division.