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Are the Lions better than the Packers? Part 1: Offense

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We analyze Chris Simms’ thoughts about the Lions being better than the Packers.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Simms is at it again. There seems to be no boundaries that the former NFL quarterback and current Bleacher Report analyst won’t cross to show how much he likes the Detroit Lions in 2017.

A few weeks ago, he said the Lions could be a Super Bowl team. And we took a look into that and decided that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities but still unlikely.

This week it’s a new story. On Tuesday morning, Simms dropped a new Preseason Power Rankings on Bleacher Report. In the article he would once again show his love for the Lions by ranking them 11th in the league, three spots higher than the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are a team that’s in almost every analyst’s top five. Here’s what Simms had to say.

“Over the last three years, the Lions have been a two-man show. Quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have kept the Lions afloat. They have pushed the team into the playoffs two of the last three seasons.

It shouldn't be a two-man show in Detroit this season. The Lions added Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang. This gives the team a legit offensive line, which is exciting. As long as Ameer Abdullah is healthy, this is going to be a much tougher offense to deal with.”

Okay, we see where you’re going here, Chris. Basically you’re saying the same thing most analysts that like the Lions will say. It was what he said about the Packers that had fire alarms going off in every home in Wisconsin.

“Some of you might be surprised that I have the Packers as the 14th-best football team heading into the season. Here's the thing, though: The Packers are no better than the 14th-best team in football. There's just one guy who makes them a threat. Without Aaron Rodgers, this is a 6-10 or 7-9 squad at best—and the Packers got worse this offseason.

Yeah, I know many are pointing to the signing of Martellus Bennett and saying, "look, they got Bennett; they're going to be so much better!"

No.”

Pretty deep burn there, Simms, but is he wrong? Is he right about the Lions? I’m not sure, and that’s what had me sitting down in front of my computer to write this story. I want to analyze this idea and see if it holds any water.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to compare the Lions and Packers, but we’re going to split this into two different pieces: Offensive and defensive. We’ll break down every position and see who has the edge. Today we’ll start on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback

I’m not going to even try to argue that Matthew Stafford is better than Aaron Rodgers. because he’s not. I will argue that the gap between the two is smaller than it has ever been, but Rodgers is still clearly in a class that’s higher than Stafford.

One thing to consider is this: How much more can Rodgers’ legs take? Seeing Rodgers clutch his calf muscles or limp during a game has become a recurring theme in the NFL. The soon-to-be 34-year-old’s legs may be starting to give up on him. Still, you have to give the edge to the Packers here. Even if there is an “if.”

Edge: Packers

Running Backs

Surprisingly I’m going with the Lions here, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise. The Lions will be getting back a healthy Ameer Abdullah and a healthy Theo Riddick come Week 1. Couple that with improvements on the line and more depth at running back on the bench, things look good for the Lions on paper.

The Packers are just a bigger question mark here. Is Ty Montgomery good? The stats don’t seem to be in his favor. 457 yards and three touchdowns doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The Packers did draft three running backs though.

Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays and Aaron Jones could someday be something big for the Packers, Williams especially. But at this point, it would appear that Montgomery is still the Packers starter going into the preseason.

Edge: Lions

Wide Receiver/Tight End

I believe this will be the highest point of contention in this entire article. Which team has the better receiving corps?

On the Packers’ side you have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and all mainstream NFL analyst’s favorite free agent signing of all-time, Martellus Bennett.

On the Lions’ side you have Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Eric Ebron and everyone’s favorite third-round pick, Kenny Golladay.

Let’s start off by looking at the age gap here. The Packers are sporting the older guys here. 32-year-old Jordy Nelson and 30-year-old Martellus Bennett make things a little hard on the Packers. Here’s to guys whose age could play a major role in their production in 2017.

The Lions have a much younger group here. They average out at 25.75 years old. With Golden Tate being the oldest receiver on the team at 29. He’s actually the fourth oldest player on the offense if you’re into knowing random stats like that. Lions win out in the age category.

But it’s the play that we’re talking about here. For that we’ll have to visit last year to get an idea of what we’re looking at. Let’s see how the stats look next to each other.

Lions vs. Packers receivers in 2016

Player Targets Receptions Yards Yards per reception Touchdowns Receptions per game Yards per game Catch % Fumbles
Player Targets Receptions Yards Yards per reception Touchdowns Receptions per game Yards per game Catch % Fumbles
Golden Tate 135 91 1,077 11.8 4 5.7 67.3 63.8 2
Marvin Jones 103 55 930 16.9 4 3.7 62 53.4 0
Eric Ebron 85 61 711 11.7 1 4.7 54.7 71.8 0
Jordy Nelson 152 97 1,257 13 14 6.1 78.6 63.8 1
Davante Adams 121 75 997 13.3 12 4.7 62.3 62 2
Randall Cobb 84 60 610 10.2 4 4.6 46.9 71.4 1

This actually looks closer than I thought. Although it clearly favors the Packers in some pretty important categories, namely touchdowns. The Packers as a whole had 40 receiving touchdowns to the Lions 24. That makes this a little easier doesn’t it? Let’s move on.

Edge: Packers

Offensive Line

I’m sorry, Packers fans. This one is going to be an easy one. The Packers offensive line is full of questions. Last year the Packers allowed Aaron Rodgers to get sacked 35 times. The Packers also finished 20th in rushing yards.

Then they went out and lost the best parts of that line. Obviously Pro Bowl Guard T.J. Lang signed with the Lions. They cut Josh Sitton last year, who went on to make another Pro Bowl in 2016 with the Bears, and JC Tretter left for Cleveland.

It seems pretty cut and dry that the Packers are going to have a lot of trouble replacing that production with Corey Linsley and Jahri Evans.

On the other hand, the Lions lost Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, then immediately upgraded with the aforementioned Lang and Rick Wagner, both of whom were some of the very best available at the position this summer.

The Lions are missing Taylor Decker for an unknown period of time but do have former second-overall pick Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio to fall back on in the meantime, even if they’ve had a rough go in training camp thus far.

The Packers losses and the Lions upgrades makes this an easy decision.

Edge: Lions

At the end of Part 1, it would appear that neither team is giving up much ground. It’s 2-2. Check in tomorrow when we take a look at the defensive side of the ball and see which team is better team on paper.