NFC North preview: Why the Green Bay Packers are better than the Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Carlos Monarrez breaks down the Green Bay Packers, one of the Detroit Lions’ NFC North opponents, and their outlook for the 2021 NFL season.

Green Bay Packers (predicted record: 12-5)

Predicted record: 12-5.

When they play the Lions: Sept. 20. (Week 2) in Green Bay and Jan. 9 (Week 18) in Detroit.

Why they’re better than the Lions

As long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers — which likely won’t be too much longer — they’ll be better than the Lions. The reigning NFL MVP should be plenty motivated to play what could be his last year in green and gold. Even though he turns 38 in December, Rodgers doesn’t seem affected by age.

Last year, he led the NFL with 48 passing touchdowns, a 70.7% completion rate and a 121.5 passer rating. And that was just to show up the Packers after they drafted Jordan Love without telling him. Imagine what Rodgers will do this season when he’s essentially trying to stoke trade interest for next season.

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Why they’re not

After back-to-back strong seasons on defense, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was let go when the team decided to let his contract expire. That led the Packers to hire Joe Barry, the former Lions defensive coordinator whose defenses have never ranked better than 28th overall during stints in Detroit and Washington. Barry should have plenty of talent — Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark, Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary — but there is his track record. Green Bay also struggled mightily on special teams and fired coordinator Shawn Mennenga, replacing him with assistant Maurice Drayton.

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Swirling controversy

Rodgers’ reworked contract practically ensures that he will be traded in the offseason. So he’s basically playing a lame-duck season. That could be problematic if he struggles or if he gets hurt and there’s any disagreement on a timetable for his return, especially if Jordan Love looks good while standing in for Rodgers.

There’s already a rift between Rodgers and the organization over what the quarterback reportedly believes to be a lack of respect, so you can imagine he won’t need much prodding to voice any concerns that arise this season. Unless Rodgers is able to reach the Super Bowl, it’s going to be a terrible end to a fantastic career in Green Bay.

Biggest asset

Since Rodgers is too obvious an answer, let’s go with All-Pro receiver Davante Adams. He said in July that he deserves to be the NFL’s highest-paid receiver, and it’s hard to argue after he led the NFL with 18 touchdown catches and 98.1 yards per game while putting together his second 1,300-yard season.

Adams is part of an excellent receiving corps that includes Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan, who had a breakout year with 11 touchdowns. Adams wants a new contract, so he should have plenty of motivation to show the Packers he’s worth it.

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Biggest need

The offensive line could be a major concern since they’ll be without two of their rocks, at least to start the season. Rodgers and the Packers will sorely miss All-Pro center Corey Linsley, who signed a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. And All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari will start the season on the PUP list while he continues to recover from an ACL he tore Dec. 31. That means Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins will slide over one spot and rookie center Josh Myers, a second-round pick from Ohio State, will take over for Linsley. Another rookie, fourth-round pick Royce Newman from Mississippi, could be starting at right guard. Rodgers might have to get rid of the ball a lot faster than he normally does.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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