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Roundtable: Are the Detroit Lions contenders or pretenders in the NFC North?

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With over a third of the NFL’s regular season in the books, the NFC North looks wide open. Can Detroit grab the proverbial brass ring for the first time in 25 years?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Last week was the return of the roundtable, and with all of the great discourse last week’s topic provided—not just from the Pride of Detroit staff, but you, the community here at POD as well—it’s back for a second week in a row!

If you’re unfamiliar with our roundtable or how it works, check out some of our (relatively) recent discussions:

Welcome to #BROCKTOBER, the most wonderful month of the year where the Miami Dolphins, led by Brock Osweiler, knocked off the NFC North leading Chicago Bears in an absolutely ridiculous overtime contest on Sunday. It had everything: Osweiler throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns, Khalil Mack and the Bears defense recording zero sacks, and Mitchell Trubisky getting handcuffed by Matt Nagy on the Bears final offensive drive of the game.

The Minnesota Vikings had to scratch their starting running back, Dalvin Cook, from the lineup for their matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, but it would be his backup, Latavius Murray, who stole the show and helped propel the Vikings to their third win of the season and the team’s second consecutive victory.

The Green Bay Packers, desperate for a win, somehow escaped Monday night with one, despite trailing the entire second half to the 49ers. Aaron Rodgers managed to turn a seven-point deficit with three minutes left, into a three-point win... in regulation.

With every team within a single game of one another, the NFC North seems to be as open as anyone could have ever imagined it to be before the season started. And as the Lions are coming off their bye week and heading to Miami for a matchup with the Dolphins, does it seem like the team is in a position to keep pace with the thick of the division, or fade back into obscurity?

Are the Lions contenders or pretenders in the race for the NFC North crown?

Jeremy Reisman: This is obviously a tough question to answer for a myriad of reasons, but it comes down to this for me: I don’t think the Lions are currently playing at a level that should warrant postseason consideration. However, this question is relative to the rest of the division, and there is not a team in the NFC North that isn’t inherently flawed right now. The Vikings can’t protect Kirk Cousins. The Packers still have a ways to go defensively. The Bears don’t trust their own quarterback yet. And the Lions have a really bad defense.

All four teams are contenders for the NFC North, but I would call all of them pretenders for the NFC crown.

John Whiticar: I think that the division race will come down to the final few weeks of the season, as it seems to always happen. There’s no clear front-runner for the division at the moment; Chicago was the best looking team prior to last week, then they decided that they couldn’t cover Albert Wilson screen plays. With a mediocre quarterback—yes, Mitchell Trubisky threw for three touchdowns, but one was a shovel pass and one was due to a broken defense—I can’t see them winning the division without an elite defense.

Kent Lee Platte: In theory, all four teams in the NFCN are in play to win the division or come in last place, with only a game or two separating everybody. In reality, it's very clear that the Lions would need to improve dramatically for them to be considered a true contender. Their issues on defense are still far too prominent to not be a worry, while their issues on offense, outside of the Packers game, are concerning.

Ryan Mathews: The Lions are phonies, a bunch of big fat phonies.

But in all seriousness, this week’s matchup against the Dolphins in Miami is going to be a pretty good measuring stick for the team. Detroit has yet to win a game on the road this season, and Miami has been a pretty good team at home as of late. If there’s something that’s going to keep me from saying the Lions are contenders, it’s their defense. But we’re all pretty familiar with the narrative of Matt Patricia’s defenses in New England, and how it took time for them to gel over the course of the season, so maybe there’s some hope for this defense as the calendar turns—and hope is the thing with feathers.

Jeremy: I’m ashamed to admit I knew that was a “Family Guy” reference without clicking the link, but at least it was back when the show wasn’t a parody of itself. As for the Lions defense, that’s really the key to everything. As much as I want to believe the “Matt Patricia will eventually fix everything” talking point, I just don’t think the Lions have the personnel to do it, even if we’ve seen guys like Romeo Okwara and Devon Kennard bud under his system. I need to see them hold a single team under 4.7 yards per carry before I believe.

John: Another thing we need to consider is the pass rush. You mentioned Okwara and Kennard, and coupled with Eli Harold, they’ve accounted for 11 sacks. From a pure stat perspective, this is good. However, a lot of these have been coverage sacks. That’s a positive for the secondary, but a negative for the defensive line. They’re giving too much time to opposing quarterbacks. Given the injuries and inconsistencies in the secondary, we can’t rely on them alone to shut down offenses.

Kent: You mention the secondary and coverage sacks, but one thing to consider in that regard is that the Lions have been productive despite a poor pass rush and their secondary has been disruptive despite individually having a group prone to error. Darius Slay had his worst game in years against the Packers but the Lions defense gave Aaron Rodgers fits due to a strong game plan and good enough execution. That speaks to a coaching group that may be improving, and I can't be the only one that's noticed Jim Bob Cooter creating more and more dynamic plays from different alignments, something he's struggled with in the past.

The Patriots defense was known to start the year slowly under Matt Patricia, but maybe that's just indicative of a philosophy that's more ingrained in him generally. That could mean this slow start to the season was just that, a slow start, and that their best football is still coming. Imagine beating Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers being a warm up.

Mike: In my opinion, this team will go as far as its offense takes them. and right now they’re primed to go far if they can keep up what they've been doing. Stafford has been one of the best and most accurate quarterbacks since Week 2, Kerryon has been one of the better running backs in the league, and these receivers—Kenny Golladay, especially—are getting into the swing of things after slow start. Lastly, the offensive line is actually performing. It’s really happening. guys. All this, and I still feel like they haven’t played their best football yet. This team is for real.

Poll

Are the Lions true contenders in the NFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    Yes
    (587 votes)
  • 29%
    No
    (251 votes)
838 votes total Vote Now