TIM AND MIKE: Checking out the NFC North

Posted May 28, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara discuss the NFL's potential playoff expansion and delve into the NFC North landscape

As the end of the offseason workout programs gets closer – the Lions break for the offseason after their mandatory minicamp June 10-12 -- issues away from the playing field are part of the conversation.

NFL owners are considering expanding the playoff field to 14 teams from the current 12-team format.  Playoff expansion has been debated heavily on both sides, with opponents claiming it dilutes the field while backers say it adds to interest.

Golden TateWR Golden Tate (Photo: Detroit Lions)

There was more discussion at a league meeting in Atlanta last week, and a vote is likely to come in the fall, with an expectation that the 14-team format will be implemented in 2015.

In the NFC North, opinions vary on which teams have gotten the most help in the draft and free agency.

In the Lions’ camp, wide receiver Golden Tate visited the White House last week with his former teammates on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Did Tate do anything wrong by skipping one OTA workout to take part in the celebration?

And looking far, far ahead, Las Vegas has made the Lions four-point favorites in the season opener against the Giants on Monday Night TV.

It makes for a lot to chew on for a league that is never short of food for thought.

Mike: Starting with playoff expansion – and the Lions hope to be in this year’s 12-team field – I’m more against it than for it but not entrenched either way.

There is no real downside to expansion. With an extra team, the five-week time frame remains the same -- wild-card round, divisional playoffs, conference championships, bye week and Super Bowl.

Adding a playoff team to each conference will create more drama in the final week or two of the season. In the end, the best teams usually end up in the Super Bowl, and if a longshot makes it, so be it.

Does it sound like I’m talking myself into it?

Tim: A little bit, but I tend to agree with you. It’s really hard to make the playoffs in the NFL and I like that about it. I’ve always thought it was ridiculous when sub-.500 NBA teams make the playoffs and then get waxed in the first round.

It’s rare that a NFL team makes the playoffs with a .500 record or worse. I know it’s happened, but it’s rare.

It’s one extra team in each conference and the only real change is the top seed getting a bye instead of the top two teams. No big deal either way.

As for the NFC North, and which team got the most help, Chicago is a better football team than they were last year, especially on defense. They got Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston to rush the quarterback, an area of that team that was bad last year (31 sacks was a league low).

Do you agree?

Mike: Agreed on Jared Allen. In the exchange of veteran pass-rushers, the Bears got better with Allen coming over from Minnesota in place of Julius Peppers, who took the freeway north to Green Bay.

At the end of last season, Allen proved that he still has plenty of fuel left in the tank with 6.5 sacks in the last five games. Peppers had three in his last five games and only seven for the season. The Bears also drafted rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller to shore up an area that needed fresh legs and talent.

For the Bears, it remains to be seen if Jay Cutler can do more for the Bears in his return from an injury than Josh McCown accomplished as his replacement for the last seven games last year. McCown’s stats were great – 13 TD passes against one interception – but the Bears were 3-4 in his seven starts.

I don’t see the Vikings making a big move up from last place. They still have quarterback problems after drafting Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick in the first round.

No matter what else the Packers did, nothing is as important as having Aaron Rodgers healthy for a full season. He missed seven starts last year with a broken collarbone but got back in time to beat the Bears in the last game and win the division.

That leaves the Lions, who had the North title in their hands last year but fumbled it away with a 1-6 finish.

Playing smarter, sharper, more disciplined football is more important than anything they added in the draft or free agency.

Tim: The Lions’ two biggest needs this offseason were getting a second receiver and a starting-caliber safety. They accomplished that with the additions of Tate and James Ihedigbo.

Second-round pick Kyle Van Noy was an important draft pick for the role they have planned for him.

The Lions are a better football team on paper than the one that stumbled down the stretch and blew a golden opportunity to win a division title.

They need to do the little things right and that’s what I hope this coaching staff brings to the table beyond X’s and O’s.

The Las Vegas odds are interesting. I actually read somewhere the Lions are one of a handful of teams who are favored in 10 games this year. Interesting, but we’ve seen this before, right?

Mike: Yes, and the history of last year, when the Lions were favored far more often than not, proved again that the betting line doesn’t guarantee a winner or a loser.

However, it’s interesting that Vegas has the Lions favored over the Giants in the opener. Can the Lions get retribution from the Giants for beating them in overtime last year to knock them out of the playoffs?

Tim: Four-point favorites is about right for a team opening the season at home on Monday Night Football.

Vegas loves the Lions roster, and on paper it looks great, but there are still some concerns.

There are huge question marks when it comes to the cornerback position.

Also, quarterback Matthew Stafford has to regain some of the mojo he lost at the end of last year. I’m confident he can, and he has better tools around him, but that’s really the key to the whole operation.


Mike: That’s the second time today that you’ve asked me if I agree, now it's about the need for better play from the cornerbacks, and for Stafford to bounce back.

Now it’s my turn to see if you agree with me that any criticism of Golden Tate was unwarranted for skipping a workout to visit the White House.

I wouldn’t have criticized Tate if he had stayed a week in the Lincoln bedroom and left with a suitcase full of monogrammed towels.

Tim: This is so stupid. I can’t believe we’re talking about it. Anyone who criticized him for missing an OTA practice in May for a trip to the White House needs to get a grip.

That’s one of those things you never turn down. It was a chance to celebrate a hard-earned championship and close the book on his career in Seattle.

He’s back to work and hoping for return trip soon.

Mike: Agreed.