Are the Detroit Lions the Biggest Threat to Green Bay Packers in NFC North?

Bob FoxContributor IJanuary 1, 2012

The Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions have been playing each other since 1930 when the Lions were the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans.  They have faced off 162 times, with the Packers holding a 90-65 edge with seven ties. The rivalry with the Lions was never more intense than it was early in the Vince Lombardi era.

Vince Lombardi became head coach of the Packers in 1959. That was two years removed from the Lions' last NFL championship in 1957.  Add to that, the Packers and Lions had played every year on Thanksgiving day in Detroit since 1951.  That continued until 1964, when the league started rotating NFL teams to play the Lions on turkey day, much to the delight of Lombardi. 

The most infamous Thanksgiving game of that era came in 1962.  The Packers were undefeated coming into Detroit.  The Lions brought their "A" game that day as Bart Starr was harassed all day in a 26-of-14 loss.  Starr was sacked 11 times in the game as Alex Karras, Roger Brown and company had a big day.  The Green Bay dream of a perfect season ended that day as the Packers would finish 1962 13-1.

The Packers got the last laugh, the team repeated as NFL champs in 1962.  The Packers won three consecutive Western Conference titles from 1960-62.  Guess who finished second all three years?  The Lions.  But the rivalry has not had many big games since that era in terms of divisional prominence. 

Since the NFC Central/North came about in 1967, the Packers have won the division 10 times.  The Lions have only won the division three times.  Compare that to the dominance of the Vikings and Bears over that time.  The Vikes have won the division a whopping 18 times, while da Bears have won the division 10 times, just like the Packers.  That is why the rivalry with those two teams is more renown.

Add to that, the Lions have been a bad football team for many years.  Detroit's last winning season until this year occurred in 2000 when they were 9-7. The Lions were also the first team in NFL history to go 0-16, which happened in 2008.

Also, until this year, the Lions hadn't been in the playoffs since 1999.  As I mentioned earlier, the team hasn't won a NFL title since 1957.  In fact, they have only been in one title game since, in 1991, when they were blasted by the Washington Redskins, 41-10. 

The Packers and Lions do have a fairly recent playoff history.  Who can forget Brett Favre's last minute deep heave to Sterling Sharpe in the Packers' wild 28-24 win over the Lions in the Silverdome in the 1993 playoffs?  How about the Packers holding the great Barry Sanders to minus-one yard in 13 attempts in a 16-12 win at frigid Lambeau Field the following year?

Recent history has the Packers at a big advantage. The Lions have not won in Green Bay since 1991. The Packers have been pretty competitive in Detroit over that period of time.  Maybe the the rivalry will someday be like it was in the early '60s.  That day could be coming soon.

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 24:  Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions drops back for a pass during a NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Ford Field on December 24, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Why?  The 10-5 Lions are definitely on the upswing. 

Detroit has some very talented young stars on offense like QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson.  Stafford has had a phenomenal 2011 season, as he has thrown 36 TD passes vs. 14 interceptions for 4,518 yards. 

Even with those stats, Stafford didn't make the NFC Pro Bowl roster.  That will most likely change, though, especially if Aaron Rodgers is playing in his second straight Super Bowl, which will open up a Pro Bowl roster spot. 

Johnson is on the Pro Bowl roster and was designated a starter.  Johnson has 85 receptions for 1,437 yards and 15 TDs.  The Lions also have some other talented receiving weapons like TE Brandon Pettigrew and rookie WR Titus Young.

The Lions have been snake bit at running back because of injuries.  RB Jahvid Best is extremely quick, but was placed on IR due to concussion issues.  The Lions also drafted RB Mikel Leshoure in the second round of the 2011 draft, but he too ended up on IR due to a torn Achilles tendon in training camp. 

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions talks with the official during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field on November 24, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The Packers defeated the Lions 27-15.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Ge
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Lions are third in scoring in the NFL, only behind the Packers, Saints and Patriots. Detroit is averaging 28.8 points a game.

Detroit also have some nice talent on defense, especially with their front four, just like the 1960s version of the Lions.  The D-Line has talented players like Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, rookie Nick Fairley and Cliff Avril.

The defensive line needs some help from the back seven on defense, though, as the Lions are only ranked 20th overall in total defense.  Detroit is ranked 14th in pass defense, but only 26th in run defense.

Bottom line, the Lions are young and talented.  They should continue to get better, especially if they can avoid the injury jinx at key positions and continue to add young talent.

However, the Lions are also a very immature football team.  The poster child of that immaturity is Suh, who was kicked out of a game and suspended for two more games for stomping on the arm of guard Evan Dietrich-Smith of the Packers.

There have been a number of other incidents where players on the Lions have committed stupid penalties.  And at key times, too.  The Lions are also a team that seems to play on after the whistle blows.  The Lions don't have a very good reputation with the officials on the field, that's for sure.

That goes on the coaching staff.  Head coach Jim Schwartz has done a nice job developing the Lions, but he and his staff need to do a better job getting the players to play smart.  There has to be accountability when one makes a key mistake.  No matter who the player is. 

When that happens, the Lions will continue to get better.  The Lions also have to get younger.

In terms of youth, the Packers were the second youngest team in the NFL (behind the Tampa Bay Bucs) going into the 2011 season.  That just tells you what a masterful job that Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have done with this roster, as the Packers are 14-1 heading into the game on Sunday, having already clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs this year after winning the Super Bowl last season.

Believe it or not, the Lions are the fourth OLDEST team in the NFL.  That is why Detroit has to continue to add more talented youth on the roster, just like Thompson has done with the Packers. 

In terms of the youth on the rest of the teams in the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings are the 10th oldest team in the NFL, while the Chicago Bears are ranked 23rd, which is somewhat surprising, especially when one looks at the veteran leadership on the Chicago defense, led by the likes of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.  

The NFC North also has some of the best talent in the NFL at quarterback, where all four teams have QBs that were first round draft picks.  

Rodgers is the favorite to win the MVP this year based on his stellar 2011 season (45 TD passes vs. six picks for 4,643 yards and 122.7 QB rating), which has led to a 14-1 record for the Packers.  Jay Cutler of the Bears had his team at 7-3 before he broke the thumb on his throwing hand.  Stafford has the Lions at 10-5 and in the playoffs.  Christian Ponder has had his ups and downs with the Vikings, but he shows a lot of promise.

So...are the Lions the biggest threat to the Packers in the NFC North in the foreseeable future?  Well, that depends on the young talent that they hope to add to the roster and by the behavior exhibited by their players on the field.  If those two things improve, then I would say, yes.

Time will tell.


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