Mike Tirico’s formula for the Lions to win the NFC North and host a home playoff game includes a player and his position group stepping up, and for the entire team to get over a stumbling block that has tripped them up for almost a quarter century.
Tirico, ESPN’s lead analyst and play-by-play announcer for Monday Night Football, gave his opinions in a conversation with detroitlions.com in a recent visit to Lions training camp.
On What the Lions have to do to win the North:
Tirico: “Defend. Defend the pass. Defend the pass better than they have the last few years and this team can celebrate a division title and have a home playoff game – which would not be the worst thing on the planet.”
On a Lion who might be underrated or not well known, but whose performance is important to have a winning season and contend for the NFC North title:
Tirico: “That’s a good question. I’ll tell you the guy who I think is one of the keys to the season, is Darius Slay.”
On whether it’s just Slay taking over at one corerback or the entire secondary stepping up to compete against the division’s quarterbacks and receivers:
Tirico: “If there is a glaring omission from the offseason, or question mark going into the season, it’s right back to where it’s been the last three years in a division where Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler can rip it, and who knows who it’s going to be in Minnesota – if Teddy Bridgewater’s going to play, or what they’re going to do?
“We do know they (the Vikings) have in Cordarrelle Patterson a terrific receiver. And Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, they have great receivers. And Jordy Nelson (in Green Bay) got paid like he’s a great receiver.
“We know that six times out of the 16 you line up against somebody really good. Do the Lions have the guys who can stop the really good? To me, that is the difference in this team having 7 or 8 wins or 10 or 11 wins.
“Will the entirety of the secondary, especially the corner spots, step up? Like a
“This team needs that, and they need those guys to develop this year.”
On whether it’s fair to make the Packers favorites to win the North again, with the expectation that Rodgers will be healthy for a full season:
Tirico: “Yeah, I would say it’s fair, given that Julius Peppers is there with Clay Matthews, and that Rodgers and that offense is still able to put up points like they did in that last game in Chicago last year. (The Packers won the showdown to win the North.) When they needed to score to get into the playoffs, they scored every time.”
On the Bears contending, and where they might still have a weakness:
Tirico: “I don’t know if Chicago’s defense is better than when it was historically bad last year.”
On the division being tightly contested, and how the Lions have become more competitive in it by breakdown down barriers with one big one remaining. The last game of the season is at Green Bay on Dec. 28, and they have not beaten the Packers in a road game since 1991:
Tirico: “Every game within this division, I wouldn’t want to bet my money on it. I think the Lions got past a lot of stuff in the Jim Schwartz era – can’t win here, can’t win there, can’t do this, can’t do that.
“Now go to Green Bay in the cold and win. You saw the schedule, and you look at the schedule and you see where it is. You know something in your heart tells you that it’s going to matter a lot.”