ORLANDO – Matt Patricia got pretty used to the New England Patriots being the top dog in the AFC East over the years. In fact, the Patriots have won the last nine AFC East titles and won the division 13 out of the 14 seasons Patricia spent with the organization from 2004-17 before becoming Detroit's new head coach this offseason.
Things have been a little different for the Lions in the NFC North, and Patricia knows he has a tough task ahead of him.
"Our division is extremely difficult," Patricia said Tuesday of playing Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago twice a year. "There's a lot of outstanding players, great quarterbacks, difficult schemes both offensively and defensively that we'll have to contend with.
"There'll be some huge challenges there. I think those guys have added some pieces, in particular on offense, that will be challenging for us to handle."
The biggest change so far has been the addition of Pro Bowl quarterback and three-time 4,000-yard passer Kirk Cousins to defending NFC North Champion Minnesota. The addition of Cousins, and the fact that the Vikings didn't lose any major pieces of their No. 1-ranked defense last year, makes them the team to beat in the division at this point.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a new weapon to throw to in five-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham.
Chicago finished last in the division a year ago, but quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is entering his second season and the team added receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton to his mix of weapons in free agency.
"Every team has gotten better," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said of the competition within the division. "I think we've gotten better. I think the other teams in the division have gotten better.
"The other teams in the division added good players. That's not a question. I think we've added a lot of good players as well and we still have another opportunity with the draft to kind of add to our roster. The team building really never ends for us. It's training camp, it's cut-down day, so we'll be fine. We'll put a really good product out on the field."