Why a Healthy Matthew Stafford Guarantees the Detroit Lions a Division Title

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Why a Healthy Matthew Stafford Guarantees the Detroit Lions a Division Title
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are a very talented football team, and a healthy Matthew Stafford will give the Lions an NFC North division championship in 2012. The Lions have as much talent as any team in their division, especially with the pieces they have added on offense over the past two drafts.

The league is changing, and the Lions are on the leading edge of this change. The NFL is now a passing league, as defenses simply can’t defend the pass anymore. The running back position is an afterthought because NFL defenses can’t stop teams from throwing the ball.

In what can essentially be described as an arm’s race, successful NFL teams continue to add weapons to use in their passing attack, and they pair these players with elite talent at the quarterback position. The Lions have acquired talent in the passing game, so much so that they are one of the league’s premier units.

It is a bold statement to declare that the Lions are ready to finish ahead of the Green Bay Packers, but before your drink flies out of your mouth, remember that this is the NFL. Shocking things happen every year, and the Lions have a bunch of things going for them.

For years, the Lions had been the dog that got kicked around by its owner, and last year that dog decided it was going to bite. It turns out that the dog had sharp teeth. The Lions finished with a regular season record of 10-6, and they played in the wild-card round of the playoffs, losing to the New Orleans Saints.

They look to build upon their 2011 season, and a divisional title should be set firmly in their sights. It will be a tough challenge, as the NFC North is the best division in the NFL, boasting teams like the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

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Conventional thinking has the Packers winning the division, but a thorough examination of each team’s schedule reveals a potential problem for the Packers. The start to their 2012 NFL season is hellish, and it is highly likely that the Packers will not be leading the division through the first six weeks.

They start with games at home against San Francisco and Chicago, and then travel to Seattle in Week 3. They follow that up with a home game against New Orleans, followed by two road games versus Indianapolis and Houston. This is a brutal start.

Through Week 6, the Lions are home to St. Louis, and on the road at San Francisco and Tennessee. Week No. 4 is home against Chicago and then they get their bye in Week 5. The Lions travel to Philadelphia in Week 6. This is a much easier start to a season, and a start that tremendously favors the Lions.

Looking at each team’s roster on the offensive side of the ball is also revealing. Until recently, the Packers were a much more talented football team than the Detroit Lions, but that is simply not the case anymore. Upon examination, the Lions match up well with the Packers at each position.

While Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in football, Matt Stafford is not far behind. Stafford has things to prove to some, but he is an incredibly talented quarterback. He is clearly the best young quarterback in the game.

ESPN's KC Joyner recently published a list of the top 10 NFL players that a team would want to build a franchise around that are under 25 years old. Matt Stafford came in at No. 2, finishing one spot behind Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

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Joyner’s reasoning is straightforward:

Pros: Stafford racked up more than 5,000 passing yards last season despite throwing more than 75 percent of his targets to guys like Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Tony Scheffler. Having Calvin Johnson as a primary target is a big help, but those numbers illustrate Stafford's ability to post voluminous numbers even when throwing to less-than-elite pass-catchers.

Cons: He has had only one healthy NFL season, something that shows Stafford still has a way to go to prove his long-term durability.

He puts the 24-year-old Stafford near the top of the list because of his ability to distribute the ball to players other than Calvin Johnson. It is flat-out lazy analysis when people talk about Stafford being bailed out by Johnson.

The Lions have more talent at the running back position than the Packers. They have yet to prove that they can be healthy at the NFL level, but a running game is something the Lions desperately need.

The Lions can use the running game as a measure to to control the clock and keep the Green Bay offense off of the field. Green Bay does not have much of a running attack, and the Lions have an advantage here.

There is a lot of talent at the wide receiver position for the Packers. They have Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones and Randall Cobb. The Packers can go four receivers wide and eat up NFL defenses.

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The Lions might have more talent at the receiver position than the Packers, as surprising as that sounds. The Lions have Calvin Johnson, the best wide receiver in the NFL. They also have Nate Burleson, Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles. The Lions can also go four wide and tear up an NFL secondary.

Jermichael Finley might be more talented than Brandon Pettigrew, but it is Pettigrew who is more productive. The tight end position is a wash.

These teams are similar on defense, as they rely on pressure to make opposing quarterbacks make mistakes. They run totally different systems and the personnel are different.

The Packers run a 3-4 defense, as opposed to the 4-3 defense that the Lions run. Because they run different schemes, the defensive pressure comes from different places.

They also have holes in their secondary that get exposed when the pressure is not there. Much has been made of the Lions’ weakness in the secondary, but it is overblown. The reality is that both teams get good secondary play as long as they get pressure on the quarterback.

These comparisons go out the window, and none of it matters if Stafford gets injured, or has to miss any time. More influential than anything is the health Matthew Stafford, and the hopes of the entire franchise rest on him.

The Lions are quickly becoming an elite football team, especially on offense, but their hopes will rise and fall with Stafford’s play. He has helped to bring a franchise back from the dead.

The Lions are on the doorstep of being an elite team, and they will go as far as a healthy Stafford takes them. They will go nowhere without him though, and that is the key to the Detroit Lions entire season.

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