The NFC North has been one of the most competitive division in the NFL for the last three seasons with each team registering at least one 10 win season over that time. After successful offseason acquisitions through the draft and through free agency this season shouldn’t be much different. This is one of the few divisions in the NFL where each team has a chance of winning the division.
The Lions, much like the Vikings, virtually filled every need they had this season with young talent. Unfortunately, that same youthful talent could be the Lions downfall if the young players don’t produce immediately.
In free agency the Lions found their replacement for Jahvid Best in Reggie Bush and added a proven veteran safety in Glover Quin. Those moves alone instantly solve two of the Lions biggest issues, a solid cover safety and a running back that is a big play threat. The Lions also added Jason Jones who will replace Cliff Avril at defensive end. My thoughts on this signing is it saved the Lions cap space, but also gave the Lions virtually the same production as they would have gotten out of Avril. The only question mark about Jones is that he’s unproven in a role as large as he figures to play with the Lions, but given the talent along the defensive line I fully expect Jones to be an impact player.
In the draft the Lions added four players expected to be starters in defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay, offensive guard Larry Warford and punter Sam Martin. Each player has the potential to be a pro bowler, but may develop at varying rates. The rate of these players development may determine how successful the Lions are this season.
Why The Lions finish second in the division:
The Lions have taken an all or nothing approach through the draft in this make or break season and if they don’t cash out on their gamble this season it could be bad news for them. I do expect each of their draft picks to be successful players, however it’s highly unlikely that each player develops into starters in their first seasons. If Ansah make an impact on the edge and Jason Jones doesn’t excel as an NFL starter the Lions will have a very mediocre pass rush off the edge, which is bad news when they play Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacey, and Matt Forte twice a year.
Injuries played a factor last season and if it happens again, especially to a key player like Reggie Bush who the Lions would have a hard time replacing, it would force Stafford to throw the ball a ton which didn’t work out too well for the Lions last season.
With that said Stafford is an elite talent and even if the Lions sustain injuries there are enough pieces around him for the team to be successful
Why The Lions will win the NFC North:
As I stated previously, the Lions added a lot of raw talent in the draft, but the talent may not be as raw as we think, especially given each player was drafted for a specific purpose and are in an ideal situation and scheme. Ansah will be playing along arguable the best defensive tackles in the NFL in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley allowing for more one on one situations. Could a rookie defensive end ask for a better situation? Plus he had the luxury of learning the Lions’ defensive scheme early thanks to the senior bowl. Darius Slay has had an early injury, but it should be behind him by the time training camp roles around. There he will have the benefit of learning from Chris Houston and Glover Quin, two very productive starters with a lot of longevity in the NFL, which is invaluable to a player who already has all the talent and just needs some direction.
The Lions got more athletic along the offensive line which should help with the interior pressure Matthew Stafford faced in 2012 and Reggie Bush is exactly the player the Lions’ high octane offense has been missing alongside Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew. The weapons are all there and the Lions look extremely good on paper. If the Lions play as good as the talented roster looks it could be a big year for the Lions and their fans.