Scouting the NFC North: Can the Detroit Lions take the division in 2020?

Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /
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Rodgers returns
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

Green Bay Packers offseason

The Green Bay Packers finished 13-3, almost the inverse of the Lions 3-12-1 season but both losses to the Pack came down to fourth-quarter drama that ended predictably in favor of the division darlings. Lead by Aaron Rodgers, but with a resurgent defense and ground game, the Packers did what the Lions were hoping to do for Stafford, support him with a run game and an improved defense.

The Packers’ biggest move was from 22nd in scoring defense to ninth (25.0 points-per-game to 19.6 pts/gm). They gave up nearly the exact same amount of yardage on defense in both years but got more stops when it counted in 2019. Their offense was virtually identical in output, with a slight rise in rushing production.

The Packers shocked much of the football world by pulling an Aaron Rodgers on Aaron Rodgers and selecting his eventual replacement, Jordan Love, in round one of the 2020 NFL Draft. Roles reversed, Rodgers, playing the part of Brett Favre (the man he was drafted to replace) this time, has expressed his displeasure with the selection and hinted at a possible parting of ways down the road.

While getting insurance for Rodgers seems like a ready-made State Farm commercial, which Rodgers famously endorses, it seems like they should have done a discount double-check on the rest of the roster, too.

The Love pick was the big headline for the Packers offseason but the rest of the offseason has been something of a quiet affair in Wisconsin, otherwise. Christian Kirksey, an inside linebacker from the Cleveland Browns was their biggest get of 2020, so far. The Spotrac website shows their activity here.

Primarily, the Packers targeted offense during the draft grabbing power running back  A.J. Dillon and h-back/tight end Josiah Deguara after Love. After round three they took several interior offensive linemen and a couple of linebacker-edge players. Their draft haul can be seen on the NFL Draft Tracker, here.

Looking at the losses to their roster, they lost some offensive linemen, depth at receiver, and linebacker, primarily losing Brian Bulaga, Jason Springs, Blake Martinez, and Jimmy Graham.

The Detroit Lions signed former Packer Geronimo Allison with Green Bay countering by signing former Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts receiver Devin Funchess as a big outside weapon. Funchess has always flashed big-play potential but has never produced a 1,000-yard season in the NFL. He does give Rodgers a weapon and if motivated properly can be a very dangerous red-zone threat at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds.

The Green Bay Packers seem to be hitching much of their hopes to the development of recent draft picks like edge-rusher Rashaan Gary and tight end Jace Sternberger to propel them to better production in 2020. It is hard to envision the offense taking a major leap forward with downgrades to the offensive line depth, losing Bulaga and Springs, and only adding former Detroit Lions right tackle, Rick Wagner.

While any offense featuring Rodgers has potential, they really didn’t do much to re-stock the offensive arsenal for their franchise quarterback. Davante Adams, the Packers’ best downfield threat, missed four games but should be fine for 2020. Other than Funchess, the cast is younger and less proven, overall.

The offensive line is absorbing over 25% of the 2020 cap, according to Spotrac, making it the second-highest-paid unit in the NFL. Lead by left tackle David Bakhtiari and his $14.7 million salary, center Corey Linsley’s $10.5 million salary, all the way to Detroit Lions’ cast-off Rick Wagner still getting almost $5 million. They must hold up, as the unit is very top-heavy in both spending and talent, for the Packers to repeat the magic of 2019.

The defense has drafted more than Gary, taking quite a few early picks, especially revamping the secondary where multiple picks added players like cornerbacks Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and safety Darnell Savage, Jr. They were all second-round selections or higher within the last three years, giving them an up-and-coming secondary.

It seems like this is a very big year for head coach Matt LaFleur, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett coming off of their inaugural season together.  They must manage the expectations after winning the division in year one. The Vikings are on their heels, the Detroit Lions have healed and addressed holes, and the Bears have a defense that keeps games close.

Considering their close calls with just the Detroit Lions, things could go south quickly without “well-timed” hands-to-the-face calls going their way in the waning minutes of games. Of course, for Lions fans that presumes that the NFL saw any bias in those decisions, which it hasn’t brought itself to acknowledge other than to say that they were not the correct calls.