This article will throw a lot of "spoiler" information your way. So hang on to your jerseys...
The essential question remains, will the Packers be able to repeat what they did this season?
Not if the Honolulu Blue have anything to say about it.
Prediction for 2011
The Green Bay Packers, for the first time in recent history, will need to be worried about the Detroit Lions being the "spoiler" next year. The Lions won their last four games of the season while taking on two major playoff contenders (TB and yes, GB). This was impressive all on its own. Now throw in that they accomplished this without their starting QB and their number one RB with turf toe on both feet. If they come out strong in 2011, it will immediately put Green Bay's ability to repeat, in question.
1) Strength of Schedule
The Detroit Lions are tied with six other teams for having the third hardest schedule in the NFL next season. No other team in the NFC North is on that list. The Vikings are tied for tenth. The Packers are tied for thirteenth and the Bears are tied for twenty-third. The strength of schedules is an important factor, especially if the Lions can capitalize on this and power through with a strong winning season.
2) Filling Holes Through Free-Agency and the Draft
The Vikings get the first pick of the NFC North teams with the Lions right behind them. Both of these teams may try to trade for an earlier or later pick. The Lions have had success in the draft with several of their picks, not just in the first round. This is good news for them because, as it stands now, they are in a precarious position in the first round. Analysts have them either getting the best Offensive or Defensive Lineman on the board at 13 or have them trading down to get the best CB left on the board once the top prospects have already been taken.
Regardless of where the Lions end up in the draft, they will choose players who may not be the flashiest, but will be the best fit for their team. The former Lions GM, Matt Millen, always went for the flashiest and the team suffered for it. Schwartz (who follows Bill Belichik's philosophy on draft picks), knows how to create a solid team with solid players.
Which brings me to free-agency. Schwartz and Mayhew (the current GM), use the same idea when it comes to free-agency moves. Watch for the Lions to pick up three to four key players who will be able to fill the holes on both sides of the ball, right away. You won't see the big money names, but look for them to get smart, talented players who will help boost the team's morale and success on the field. The strategy they use will make the draft much easier.
3) The Tangibles and Intangibles that Make the Difference
The Vikings have a relatively new coach, still no stadium to play in and no one is sure what will really happen at the QB position. The situation the Vikings are in takes a toll on the team, psychologically. They have some terrific players, but will need time to believe in themselves again. It will be a year or two of rebuilding in Minnesota.
The Bears will correct their deficits and make a strong showing in 2011, but because of the weakness of their schedule, there will be questions about their ability to be a true major playoff contender.
The Packers have the weight of a repeat on their shoulders. This is a heavy weight to carry and not one that many teams have pulled off historically. They are a young team and were riddled with injuries last season. The fact that they won the Super Bowl is testament to how resilient they are.
But in the end, the Lions after addressing their deficits in the off-season, will be the Cinderella Story team of 2011.
The Lions were the "best 6-10 team" in the NFL in 2010 (Terry Bradshaw) because they stayed in all but two of the games and snapped several nagging "downer" mental aspects (winning big games, getting wins on the road, and ending with a four-game winning streak). This team has nothing to lose by going for it all in 2011.
They also have the added motivation to keep Calvin Johnson happy and Stafford on the field.
Stafford was a number one draft pick. He is supposed to be the answer to the Lions QB woes. They will prioritize keeping Stafford healthy after seeing what happens when they don't (two seasons in a row). No one knows what the Detroit Lions could have done last year if Stafford had been at the helm. Of course, our talented receivers and running backs need to stay healthy too for this scenario to work.
Calvin Johnson comes up for free agency in 2013. Schwartz will be very focused on keeping one of the best WRs in the NFL in a Detroit Lions uniform. (Al Davis disagrees with this assessment of Megatron, but you have to consider the source. It's Al Davis.) Calvin, coming off of his first Pro Bowl appearance, wants to win. He wants to play for a winning team. The Lions have to become this team in 2011.
Sure, they could wait until 2012 to be "that" team, but why would they? Put the right pieces in place during free agency and the draft and you have a true playoff contender team.
The Packers will be back next season with a young and talented team. There is no way I can dispute that they will fight for their chance to return to the Super Bowl.
But there is another team just as hungry, if not more so, who has recently found "its smile" (Thank Billy Crystal for the reference). THE Detroit Lions. The Lions' "smile" is their new attitude and their self perception as the team to beat. Gone are the days when the Lions gave up on themselves and made it easy for other teams to win. Now, if you are going to beat the Lions, you are going to have to earn it.
It has often been said that football is part talent and part psychological. The Lions have amassed several very talented players and have recently acquired a positive winning attitude. This combination in Detroit will make the Lions more than just a potential threat in 2011. It will make them more than just a team you have to watch out for "some of the time," but never really take seriously.
The combination of talent and a never-say-never attitude, will make the Lions a formidable and legitimate playoff team.
It's time for the Detroit Lions to shake off the last 50 years and make their own run for the playoffs. In the immortal words of John Lennon, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..." And this dream is based on what could easily become a reality.