The NFC Central got a new name when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved out of the division in 2002. The newly minted NFC North would include four old rivals — the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions — but the first two decades of the division has lacked the sort of open-ended parity that is supposed to define the modern NFL.
In 21 years of NFC North play, the Green Bay Packers have won the division more times than the other three teams combined. It really isn’t even close. Here’s how the division championship has broken down since 2002:
- Green Bay Packers: 12 times
- Minnesota Vikings: 5 times
- Chicago Bears: 4 times
- Detroit Lions: 0 times
The Packers have of course had the advantage of having a Hall of Fame quarterback for the last 30 years bridging the Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers era. For as pathetic as the Bears and Vikings have been over that time, nothing measures up to the dysfunction of the Lions. The last time Detroit won the division was way back in 1993, when a young Barry Sanders and Herman Moore were fully coming into their own.
It’s been a long three decades for the Lions, to put it kindly. Finally, things have changed.
The Lions beat the Packers, 34-20, on Thursday Night Football to kickoff Week 4. Detroit moves to the top of the division at 3-1 with the win.
Aaron Rodgers is finally out of Green Bay. Jordan Love certainly does not look like he’s going to extend the Hall of Fame QB bridge. The Bears might be the worst team in the league, and on the brink of firing another head coach and drafting another quarterback. The Vikings are winless, too, and now seem to be coming up on the wrong end of the close-game luck that carried them throughout last season.
It’s the Lions’ time. While it may be too early to ‘crown their ass’ for any reasonable NFL fan, every bit of evidence is pointing to Detroit running the NFC North this year and beyond.
Aiden Hutchinson may only be 23 years old, but he spoke for all Lions fans after the game.
The Lions are on fire, winning 11 of their last 14 games. They’ve now won four straight against the Packers for just the second time since the 1950s, according to Pride of Detroit.
Head coach Dan Campbell has his team playing old school football. The Lions eschewed selecting a QB at the top of the draft to instead build through the trenches. The team used first round picks to select offensive tackle Taylor Decker in 2016, center Frank Ragnow in 2018, and tackle Penei Sewell in 2021 to form arguably the league’s best offensive line this side of Philadelphia.
Detroit selected Hutchinson at No. 2 overall in 2022 to give them a new anchor on the defensive line. Hutchinson is turning into the star pass rusher every good team needs, and defensive tackle Alim McNeil, a third rounder in 2021, is becoming a monster in his own right. The Lions have now held an opponent under 100 yards rushing in four straight games.
The Packers couldn’t run the ball at all against Detroit on Thursday, amassing 27 yards on 12 carries. Meanwhile, the Lions pounded the rock for 211 yards on 43 carries. Free agent signee David Montgomery and first round rookie Jahmyr Gibbs have something of a thunder-and-lightning approach in the backfield, and the Lions have no shame about running it right down the throat of opposing defenses behind their big offensive line.
Meanwhile, Jared Goff is somewhere between ‘perfectly fine’ and ‘actually kinda good’ at quarterback. Not many people thought Goff would be Detroit’s long-term QB when he was acquired as the return in the Matthew Stafford trade, but he’s been able to efficiently run the offense and make enough throws when he needs to. It sure helps when your team can dominate in the trenches the way the Lions can.
This has been a long time coming for Lions fans. The team is only going to get better when wide receiver Jameson Williams gets back from his gambling suspension in a few weeks. It’s a long time coming, but there’s a new power in the NFC North, and for once it’s the Lions.