A Look at the NFC North: Why the Detroit Lions Should Win It in 2014

Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate have formed the newest deadly receiving duo in the NFC North, but is that enough to win the division?

Through four weeks, the Detroit Lions are proving to us all that they're one of the best teams in the NFL. In fact, according to our power rankings, Detroit is the sixth-best team in the league.

Are they easily favorites to win the NFC North?

The Vikings are possibly staring at their third quarterback in three weeks tomorrow night, and the Bears defense looking like it has holes all over. The Packers finally got something going offensively this past week, but they've got offensive and defensive line issues of their own. There's no doubt that the Lions are the best team in the division right now, but can it hold?

Let's take a look at the numbers, team by team, to find out.

Green Bay Packers

Current record: 2-2
Next five opponents: vs. Minnesota, at Miami, vs. Carolina, at New Orleans, vs. Chicago
Chances of winning the division: 15.3%

Finally, life from the Green Bay Packers. At the beginning of the season, our metrics not only tabbed the Packers as the winners of the NFC North, but as the second-best offense in the entire league. Aaron Rodgers and company finally showed their true capabilities on the road against the Bears, so many will be expecting that for the rest of the season.

However, the Packers’ offense is still only the 16th best in the league, though the passing offense did jump from 22nd to 9th this past week according to our Adjusted (for strength of schedule) Passing Net Expected Points (NEP). If Eddie Lacy can get over his sophomore slump, and if the defense can figure out how to tackle a running back (last against the run), things could get even better for the team for the rest of the season.

Currently, however, the Packers have the worst chance to win the division among the four teams in the NFC North. Not exactly what Packers fans want to see or hear.

Minnesota Vikings

Current record: 2-2
Next five opponents: at Green Bay, vs. Detroit, at Buffalo, at Tampa Bay, vs. Washington
Chances of winning the division: 16.6%

The Vikings were the top-ranked defense according to our Defensive Net Expected Points metrics when they were adjusted for strength of schedule for the first two weeks of the season. Granted, the first two games were against the Rams and Patriots, but not allowing over 21 points defensively is no easy task over a two-week period regardless of opponent. Currently, Minnesota has the 10th-best defense in the league, looking more vulnerable versus the running game than the passing game.

The team's offense is on the opposite side of the spectrum, barely playing above expectation through the first three weeks of the season. However, with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm in Week 4, the team played nearly 24 points above expectation. The passing offense added 13.39 points against the Falcons and, thanks to Matt Asiata’s three-touchdown performance, the running game added seven points, good enough to become the seventh-best rushing attack in the league despite their big loss in Adrian Peterson.

If Teddy is healthy for Week 5, the Vikings could play spoiler for the season with three of their next five games coming against defenses near the bottom of the league. It shouldn’t be surprising that their chances to win the division are similar to the Bears and Packers, but under new head coach Mike Zimmer, Minnesota is looking like a future contender.

Chicago Bears

Current record: 2-2
Next five opponents: at Carolina, at Atlanta, vs. Miami, at New England, at Green Bay
Chances of winning the division: 16.9%

With the Bears offensive weapons of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at the receiver position and Matt Forte out of the backfield, many expected them to have one of the best offenses in the league. The Bears haven’t been top five material, but 13th in Adjusted Net Expected Points is still good. However, Chicago has been carried more by their running game than their passing game according to our numbers. Is the Bears’ offense a sleeping giant, or was it overrated coming into the 2014 season?

The defense hasn’t helped as much as thought despite the additions of Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston. The run defense isn’t the sieve it was last year, but ranking 24th isn’t a great formula for success. None of their next five opponents have a super strong running game, so if the Bears can string together a few wins, they should be able to keep the pressure on the two teams above them.

Detroit Lions

Current record: 3-1
Next five opponents: vs. Buffalo, at Minnesota, vs. New Orleans, at Atlanta, vs. Miami
Chances of winning the division: 51.1%

And here we are: the Detroit Lions.

Beating a team despite your biggest offensive weapon getting shut down is a great accomplishment, which is exactly what the Lions did last week. Golden Tate could prove to be one of the best offseason moves for a team, finally giving Calvin Johnson a receiver that can step up when he’s blanketed in coverage. If Tate can do it consistently, the Lions could very well improve upon their current 11th-ranked offense.

Amazingly, the Lions defense is what's carrying them in 2014. The Lions finished 2013 as the eighth-worst pass defense, but second against the run. After the first four weeks of the 2014 season, the Lions are still second in our Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP metric, but rank fifth against the pass. It’s no wonder they have over a 50% chance to win the division.

Though nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, Detroit is certainly off to a great start. Only three teams have higher division championship odds than Detroit, and just four have better odds of making the playoffs.

Remember to not sleep on the Lions in 2014.