Is This the Year the Detroit Lions Take the Division?
With the 2012 season right around the corner, most fans and analysts are trying to project who might be the best team in the league. Division titles go hand in hand with that. Some divisions, like the NFC West, seem destined to be won by their incumbents. Others are a bit more unpredictable. The Lions are a team that were historically bad in the last few years, so it’s interesting that they’re now in the discussion to win the NFC North. After their success last season, including their first playoff berth in over a decade, many are wondering whether 2012 is the year that the Lions win the NFC North.
From a historical standpoint, the idea of Detroit winning the division this year is highly unlikely. The last time that Detroit won a division championship was in 1993 when they played in the NFC Central. Prior to last season, they had endured an 11-year playoff drought. That stretch included a miserable 2-30 record over the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Because of this pitiful play, it’s almost surreal to think of them being in the conversation to win the division – especially one that has as much talent as this year’s NFC North. Although it was unthinkable to consider just a few short years ago, the Lions have suddenly developed a nucleus of young superstars to anchor their team. Detroit’s now better coached and better stocked with talented players than it has been in decades.
One of the strongest highlights of this year’s Lions team is Matthew Stafford. Now in his fourth season, the young quarterback has proven that he is able to perform at the level that the organization thought he could when they drafted him first overall in 2009. Last season saw him throw for 5,038 yards with a 63.5 percent completion rate. His 41 touchdowns were the third-most of any quarterback in the league. Despite concerns over his durability in his first two seasons, he seems to have gotten over the hump and now looks like a top-tier quarterback. He and wide receiver Calvin Johnson are a duo that will give any NFL secondary fits, and other weapons on both offense and defense are sure to help the 2012 team rack up wins.
There is a wealth of competition within the NFC North, though, and that competition might work to cancel out all of the progress the Lions have made in recent years. There are several divisions within the league where the Lions would stand a very good chance to win the division at their current talent level. Unfortunately, the NFC North isn’t one of them.
The Chicago Bears are a major reason that the Lions may not be able to take the NFC North this year. They’ve had Detroit’s number for the last several years, although virtually every NFL team has. More importantly, they’re a team that’s poised to have a bounce-back year after acquiring a number of assets during the offseason. The Lions are young and feisty, but the Bears are a team of veterans that will be playing with a chip on their shoulders.
As if the Bears weren’t poised to be a big enough problem, the Packers are guaranteed to stand in Detroit’s way. To put it in perspective on just how tough Green Bay will be to overcome: If Detroit won every game on their schedule except the games with Green Bay, their 14-2 record would still come up short compared to the 15-1 record that the Packers posted last year. Considering that they haven’t experienced any serious regressions in talent, the Packers look like they’ll be the stopping factor in the Lions’ quest for a division title.
Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether this is the year the Lions win the division is that it probably isn’t. That’s not to take away from what general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have done, as they’ve put together a team that is immensely talented and pleasing to watch. Right now, though, the Packers are just too talented, and the Bears are definitely in the same range as the Lions. Detroit has done a good job of planting the seeds for the future, and even though it’s doubtful that they win the division this year, the window is wide open for them to win it in the next few years.
About the Author: Don Phan is a full time marketing analyst with Fanatics Inc. His company sells licensed sports merchandise and runs several brands including FansEdge. Be sure to visit their Detroit Lions store for the latest Lions NFL fan gear.