(Photos courtesy of the Detroit Lions)
Talk of Fame Network
Brace for an upset.
The Green Bay Packers won four consecutive NFC North titles with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback before the Minnesota Vikings unseated them in 2015. So we asked our listeners and readers of the Talk of Fame Network in last week’s poll to identify the best team in the NFC North in 2016, and there was a surprise winner – the Detroit Lions.
The Lions have not won a division title since 1993, the longest drought of any NFC team. They finished 7-9 a year ago and will be without their best player in 2016 with the retirement of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Nonetheless, the Lions received 44.6 percent of the vote to win the poll. The Packers were next with 35.1 percent, followed by the Vikings at 18.9 percent and the Bears at 1.4 percent.
The hosts of the Talk of Fame Network disagreed with the results. Clark Judge and Ron Borges both cast their ballot for the Packers and Rick Gosselin the Vikings.
"Despite Lions' supporters stuffing the ballot box, the Pack will be back again ... on top of the NFC North,'' Borges said.
"Jordy Nelson's back," added Judge, "and so is the Pack."
What the Lions do have is a potential franchise quarterback and a pass rush. Matthew Stafford is one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season, and the Lions finished second in the NFC in sacks last season with 43.
Stafford was sacked 44 times a year ago, so the off-season priority was to shore up the blocking front. So the Lions used three of their first five draft picks on blockers, selecting tackle Taylor Decker in the first round, center Graham Glasgow in the third and tackle Joe Dahl in the fifth.
As Stafford goes, so go the Lions. Giving him protection gives him a chance to return the Lions to the playoffs after a year’s absence.
Golden Tate assumes the mantel from Johnson as Detroit’s lead receiver, and the Lions are expecting tight end and former first-round draft pick Eric Ebron to take the next step. He caught 47 passes and scored five touchdowns in his second NFL season in 2015.
Green Bay has the best offense in the NFL with Rodgers and a healthy Jordy Nelson; Minnesota the best defense and the legs of Adrian Peterson to run the ball, wind the clock and keep that defense fresh.