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Expectations high for Lions, Pack/Paul Peterson

September 14, 2011
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

With another pro football season upon us, it's time for local Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions fans to begin a season-long debate on the merits of their favorite teams.

And for a change, Lions fans, at long last, have some ammunition to fire back at their counterparts.

Now, Detroit fans shouldn't get too carried away by that 4-game winning streak at the end of last season. There's even less reason for excitement after a 4-0 exhibition season.

But the facts are clear ... the Lions have finally rejoined the National Football League.

The hangover from the blunder-filled Matt Millen regime has begun to clear in Motown. And believe me, it was a doozy.

Under the direction of general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz, the team began to use its draft picks wisely a couple of years ago.

The result was the arrival of franchise players like receiver Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh.

Suh, considered by many football people as the next Reggie White, is perhaps the most vital part of the puzzle. He's the kind of menacing defender who draws extra attention from opponents, and whose presence makes the players around him even more effective.

If the Lions are going to take the next step up, it will be the pass rush of Suh, Corey Williams and Deandre Levy that will be the main reason. Getting touted rookie Nick Fairley back will make that defense even more imposing.

The oft-injured Stafford will also have to remain upright for 16 games in order to showcase his considerable potential. Finding a running back for the inside yardage remains a problem.

The world champion Packers face a different kind of challenge - they will have a big target on their backs the whole season.

Green Bay is a very deep (their biggest advantage over Detroit) and talented team. They have a quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who is razor-close to joining the NFL elite group of quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

And he has made Green Bay fans forget that other quarterback who was there forever.

The versatile Rodgers has some dangerous receivers to throw to, led by Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley.

The Packer defense is also very strong, led by All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson.

But if the Lions have some health issues, so does Green Bay.

Rodgers suffered two concussions last season and if he is lost for any amount of time, the team doesn't have a strong back-up.

Matthews also has some lingering health issues, and losing him for even a short stretch could have serious consequences.

Still, after all is said and done, the Packers should win the NFC North with relative ease. The Lions should be in second place.

The Chicago Bears are an aging team on the down slide with a quarterback problem. The Minnesota Vikings are even in worse shape, going with a washed-up QB and a depleted corps of receivers.

I've already marked down two dates on my fall calendar: Oct. 10 and Nov. 24.

The first will see the Lions make their first appearance on Monday Night Football since Bill Clinton was President. With the Bears in town, this will be a revenge game of some magnitude.

The Thanksgiving Day date against the Packers speaks for itself. If expectations come anywhere close to being accurate, that could be a classic.

 
 

 

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