The Green Bay Packers have dominated the NFC North of late with five division titles and a Lombardi Trophy in the last six years.
But there could be a road block in 2017 – at least that’s what listeners and readers of the Talk of Fame Network believe. We asked our followers in last week’s poll who will win the North this season, and the Detroit Lions were the surprising and overwhelming winner with 64 percent of the vote. The Packers were next with 21 percent of the vote, followed by the Minnesota Vikings at 13 percent with the Chicago Bears bringing up the rear at one percent.
The Lions were in position to win the North and unseat the Packers in 2016. The two teams took 9-6 records into the season finale in Detroit, but the Packers prevailed with a 31-24 victory. Green Bay advanced to the playoffs as the division champion and Detroit as a wildcard.
The Lions hinge their hopes on quarterback Matthew Stafford, their franchise arm. There have been only five NFL quarterbacks who have passed for 5,000 in a single season, and Stafford is one of them. Detroit spent $76 million in free agency this season to provide Stafford better protection, signing tackle Ricky Wagner away from Baltimore and Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang away from Green Bay. The Lions also drafted to repair the NFL’s 18th -ranked defense, selecting linebacker Jarrad Davis in the first round and cornerback Teez Tabor in the second.
The hosts of the Talk of Fame Network were split in their voting, with Rick Gosselin casting his ballot for the Lions but both Ron Borges and Clark Judge picking the Packers.
“I'll go with the Packers but only because I don't trust the Lions to ever roar again,” Borges said. “Sixty years without a title has convinced me something is amiss there. Maybe it's the Packers, maybe it isn't. But I'll go with Green Bay. Reluctantly.”
That’s right – 60 years. The Lions haven’t won an NFL title since 1957 and have gone longer without playing for an NFL championship than any other franchise. The Packers, on the other hand, have won championships with three different quarterbacks since then – Hall-of-Famers Bart Starr and Brett Favre, plus Aaron Rodgers.
And Rodgers remains Green Bay’s edge in 2017. A two-time NFL MVP, his arm annually produces a Top-10 offense, allowing the Packers to get by with less on defense. And Green Bay was certainly lesser last season, finishing 22nd in the NFL in defense.
But GM Ted Thompson went to work on defensive repairs in the draft, using his first four picks on defenders: Cornerback Kevin King, safety Josh Jones, tackle Montravius Adams and linebacker Vince Biegel. The Packers also added another elite weapon on offense that should make Rodgers, a two-time NFL MVP, even more productive – tight end Martellus Bennett. He caught 55 passes from Tom Brady last season and led the Super Bowl champs with seven TD receptions.
"I feel about the Packers as I do about New England," Judge said. "As long as Tom Brady is standing, everyone else plays for second in the AFC East. Same goes for the NFC North. As long as Aaron Rodgers is upright, it's a three-way dash to the Avis window."
The Vikings have a Top-3 defense but will be without past NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson, who has moved on to New Orleans. The Bears must pin their hopes on the second overall pick of the 2017 draft, quarterback Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina.