Packers must be leery of up-and-coming Lions

Posted Aug. 03, 2011 @ 11:45 a.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Pardon the reference to one of the funkier rock ditties of the early 1960s courtesy of The Tokens, but in the mighty jungle known as the NFC North, the Lions have been known for sleeping more often than not for a very long time.

Until now, it says here.

We all know how heated the Packers' intradivisional rivalry has been for what seems forever with the Bears, who battled them tooth and nail in three games last season, including the NFC title game, and the Vikings, who spiced things up considerably when Packers legend Brett Favre exchanged his green and gold uniform for the deep purple garb worn in Minnesota.

But looking ahead to the 2011 season, the Packers need to look out just as much for the Lions, a team that probably gave them more fits than any other in 2010, as evidenced by Detroit's plus-two scoring differential in its season series against the Pack.

In the first game against the Lions in Week Four at Lambeau Field, the Packers barely hung on for a 28-26 victory, as Lions backup QB Shaun Hill made things more than a little interesting with 331 yards passing, including a pair of TD tosses to WR Calvin Johnson.

After their second game against the Lions in Week 14 in Detroit, an ugly 7-3 loss that snapped the Lions' 10-game slide against the Packers and launched an impressive four-game win streak for Detroit to finish the season, there were many league observers who thought the Packers were dead meat as far as the playoffs were concerned.

Of course, we all know what ended up happening.

Is it a stretch to suggest the Lions are a sleeping giant?

I think not.

And I'm guessing the Packers could be thinking the same way.

Suffice it to say it would be a wise move to pay special attention to Green Bay's two games against Detroit this coming season — a Thanksgiving Day tilt in Detroit in Week 12 and a New Year's Day regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.

Happy holidays for the Packers?

I wouldn't be so sure.

Consider that teams that finish their previous seasons as strongly as the Lions did often have a knack for picking up right where they left off. And it's very much worth noting that seven of the Lions' 10 losses last season were by one score or less.

In Johnson, the Lions have a receiver with a genuine shot at being the league's best in 2011. They already have the league's best defensive tackle by a wide margin in Ndamukong Suh, who is entering only his second season, as well as arguably the league's most underrated tight end in Brandon Pettigrew.

The key to a successful season and possible playoff berth for the Lions is former first-round QB Matthew Stafford, who has been able to start only 13 of 32 games in his pro career. If Stafford can stay healthy, the Lions could be a load and then some.      

At the very least, they have become as big a marquee attraction in Packers circles as the Bears and Vikings.

No longer can the Lions be considered a token patsy.