What a turn of events for the NFC North. After years of the Green Bay Packers dunking on the Detroit Lions and generally being on different planes of competition, the Lions beat the Packers soundly at home Sunday and held them to just nine points — the fewest amount of points an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team has scored against the Lions since 2014.
Neither team is having a stellar season as the Lions are 2-6 while the Packers fell to 3-6, but for the first time in a long time it felt like they were on similar playing fields.
That’s a big shift as far as the division is concerned. The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings have always fluctuated in performance from year to year, but the Lions and Packers’ place within the pecking order has been fairly static in recent years. Now, the Packers appear to be on the downswing. The Lions, who comfortably had the worst defense in the NFL prior to this game, intercepted Rodgers twice at the goal line. It was a strong performance from a secondary that just had their defensive backs coach, Aubrey Pleasant, fired following their 31-27 loss against the Dolphins.
The Lions and Packers are looking each other in the eye, and it’s arguable which one has the better future. The Packers' best hope for winning in the short term appears to be hoping that Rodgers can recapture his form from the past two seasons and get back to playing at an MVP level. The version of Rodgers that played against the Lions — and the one that’s shown up during their five-game losing streak — isn’t going to be good enough to get the Packers to the Super Bowl under his current contract. At least the Lions can look forward to two first-round draft picks and a potential franchise quarterback next April. And 2021 first-rounder Jameson Williams is coming back from injury at some point.
To be fair to the Packers, they have suffered through brutal injuries this year. David Bakhtiari, Sammy Watkins, Elgton Jenkins and Christian Watson are just a few of their key contributors who have missed time. Rashan Gary was reportedly lost for the year with a torn ACL and Romeo Doubs suffered a high ankle sprain that will thin the Packers out even further. At 3-6, it’s hard to imagine this team rallying and making the playoffs, especially since the Minnesota Vikings have a firm grasp on the division with a 7-1 record.
It’s probably too soon to say that Sunday’s loss was a changing of the guard for the Packers and Lions, but it was definitely a sobering reality. These aren’t the Packers of previous seasons where games against the Lions felt like layups. The Packers are in a space where they really have to grind out wins that used to be taken for granted. And now they have to scramble to try and piece together the final years of the Rodgers era while the Lions can try to capitalize on the boatload of assets and salary cap space headed their way over the next few seasons.
That’s not just a tremor in the water for what we have grown to expect in this rivalry. It’s a seismic shift that’s going to open a new chapter — one that appears more friendly to the Lions.