The 2009 NFC North: Black and Blue All Over Again

Michael MrockCorrespondent IMay 19, 2009

GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 28: Kevin Smith #34 of the Detroit Lions gets a hand shake from receivers coach Shawn Jefferson near the end of a game against the Green Bay Packers on December 28, 2008 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 31-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions will have their hands full with the NFC North in 2009.  The Bears, Packers, and Vikings did retool but not as extensively as the Lions. 

Therefore, they do not have to spend as much time as the Lions do in getting players used to a new front office, coaching staff, and systems on both offense and defense. 

However, the three other teams in the division do not know what this new version of the Honolulu Blue will be like compared to what was put on the field during the era of Millen.

The Bears, Packers, and Vikings have been rivals with the Lions as long as they have been in the NFL.  These teams always look forward to playing each other and dread it at the same time, but even if one is having a bad year it doesn't mean the winning team escapes without bruises.  

For the Lions to think playoffs so soon after the 0-16 season may be too much to hope for.  However, the best test for the 2009 Lions is how they will match up against the North—in both the talent of the teams and that they play each other twice. 

Will the Lions learn from whatever mistakes they make in their first games with each team?

Doing so will be paramount to the Lions proving they are a different animal.

The toughest team the Lions will face in the North will be the Green Bay Packers.  They are the only team not in the middle of a QB change and their main draft picks, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews, only make their defense that much tougher.

Meanwhile, Detroit will have either Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford in a new system at quarterback.  Aaron Rogers, who was on fire for almost the entire 2008 season, will be back at the helm again in the post-Favre era. 

Running back Brian Grant, along with receivers Donald Driver and Brian Jennings, could be too much for the Lions to handle. 

However, Jim Schwartz built a great "D" in Tennessee and will be up to the challenge to defend these talents and break through that wall of green that makes up their offensive line. 

An advantage for the Lions is that their game in Green Bay is in October, which is like the summer when compared to the weather in November and December.

The Williams Wall of Kevin and Pat, Chad Greenway, Jared Allen, and the rest of the Vikings' defense will once again be a force to contend with regardless of Brian Pettigrew's blocking skills at tight end.

Even though the Vikings have one of the best NFL running backs in Adrian Peterson, there is still a problem at quarterback.  Tarvaris Jackson plays like a poor man's Vick, which is why the Brett Favre show could arrive in Minnesota. 

Favre has the most all-time records for QB's, though not all of those records are for good things.  Regardless of the yards he may put up with Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, and Percy Harvin, he will also throw a lot of interceptions. 

The newly rebuilt Detroit secondary will have to exploit Favre's gunslinging nature or if it is Jackson, force him to the outside for Ernie Simms, Julian Petterson, and Louis Delmas to either knock him into next week or force him out of bounds.

The Metrodome crowd is always a factor in both the overall noise and that horn reminding the visiting team that they are in a different world. 

The Chicago Bears addition of Jay Culter does instantly upgrade their quarterback position to put the Rex Grossman years fully in the past.  The receiving corps did not have an outstanding performer last season, which could mean a multi-tooled attack that will be difficult to defend for the rebuilt Lions' "D."

If Devin Hester can rediscover confidence in his return game, they will have a dangerous combination along with Daniel Robinson on special teams.

Their Monsters of the Midway defense of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Mike Brown, Kevin Payne, and Adewale Ogunleye will be a tough act to contend with even if Rod Marinelli is coaching the defensive line. 

Plus, the Lions play the Bears on the last day of the season which could be an issue if the Lions are on the bubble of the playoffs.

The Miami Dolphins qualified for the playoffs a year after 1-15.  However, for the Lions to qualify for the playoffs a year after 0-16, they will have a tough division of long-standing rivals who have also improved their teams on both sides of the ball. 

The true goal of the Lions is not an assumed path to the playoffs, but one victory followed by another and so on.  It is not that the playoffs are impossible, but the Lions must learn how to win before they can run away with the division.