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NFC North Runs Through Jared Goff, Detroit Lions in 2023

It's been two years since the Detroit Lions lost a game to the Green Bay Packers. The Lions, a franchise perennially haunted by the other, have fully stepped out of the shadow of the old kings of the NFC North. 

Everything came up Lions on Thursday night in their 34-20 win.

Well, for most of the night, anyway. Two Packers touchdown drives out of halftime, one heavily influenced by Green Bay getting a snap off with zero seconds on the game clock, briefly brought the game to 27-17. But that was nothing more than a little scare to keep the viewers entertained. Detroit dominated every point before and after those two drives. 

After QB Jared Goff kindly got his worst play of the game out on the first drive, the offense was rolling. Goff spammed Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta over the middle, as he does, and got some help with a few gimmes from OC Ben Johnson. 

Goff even scampered out to an 11-yard red zone scramble in the first half that would have been a touchdown if he had any modicum of athletic ability. That's when you know, as a defense, that it is not your night. 

The run game was as nasty as ever, too. While the Lions’ choice to not use first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs for more than a few touches had the fantasy football community spinning for the fourth week in a row, it had no bearing on the team’s ability to run the ball. Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson and the rest of the gang beat the Packers’ defensive line into a pulp. Bell cow RB David Montgomery finished with a stellar 52 percent success rate, 121 yards and a touchdown hat trick. 

Even Detroit's young defense got after it. The pass-rush, in particular, had a field day. Aidan Hutchinson led the charge off the edge, but Alim McNeill was just as much of a problem up the middle. The linebackers were also getting home on all of DC Aaron Glenn's blitzes. 

According to the broadcast, the Packers entered the day allowing the second-lowest pressure percentage in the NFL. That won't hold after what the Lions did to them up front. Jordan Love finished the evening with a 41.5 percent pressure rate, per NextGenStats. That's partially his own fault for how long he held onto the ball, but the Lions were still heating him up, especially early on. 

All of the Lions’ dominance culminated in an impressive win in its own right but even more so in the context of their season and the NFC North at large. Detroit beat the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1 and manhandled a feisty Atlanta Falcons team just four days ago. The Lions' only loss of the season was an overtime heartbreaker against the Seattle Seahawks, who look poised for the postseason themselves. 

The Lions have handled business as well as anyone through a month of ball; the same cannot be said for any other team in the NFC North. Barring something like, say, dropping 70 points in a game, Detroit is on track.

The Packers might be the second-most competent team in the division, but we just saw what the Lions can do to them. The Packers are still young on offense and didn't change any of what made their defense useless last season. They're going to win some games, make no mistake, but they don't have the firepower to win the division right now.

In Minnesota, Lady Luck is swinging back the other way. The Minnesota Vikings have started the season with three one-score losses after going 11-0 in those games a year ago. The irony is they're largely the same quality of team. A few bad bounces, such as last week's tip-drill interception to seal the game, have been the only difference. 

The Chicago Bears are the Chicago Bears. 

Looking forward, there's no reason to think things will slow down for the Lions, either. 

On offense, we know they have a formula that works. It's the Jared Goffense, though a meaner rendition than what the Rams had going in the late 2010s. The Lions run the ball until they can't, Goff rips a handful of in-breakers over the middle and Johnson cooks up one or two explosive plays a game to give the offense a little pop. 

The Lions got a top-10 offense out of this mix a year ago, and they've only gotten more talented since then, adding Montgomery and Gibbs to the backfield and LaPorta to lead the tight end room. 

Detroit’s defense has more questions to answer, especially in the secondary, but that‘s a feisty group. It’s a versatile group, too — the Lions held the high-flying Chiefs offense to 20 points in Week 1 but had no problems getting dirty and being violent downhill against a tough Falcons offense in Week 3. 

That Glenn could get that kind of play from such a young squad speaks volumes to its potential. The youngsters are doing enough, but if they only continue to improve as they get more reps, they might be in great shape come January football. 

For the first time in a while, the NFC North is Detroit's to lose. The Lions have the right coaching staff and have talent on both sides of the ball. Everything they've done through four games suggests they can finally get it done.

All they need to do is keep the pace.

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.