Vikings own first, but Lions soon could be king in NFC North

All hail the Detroit Lions, the true king of the NFC North. 

Ah, we kid.

In reality, no drama exists at the top of the NFC North. It would take the Vikings losing their remaining games and Detroit winning out for the division to change hands. 

But the Lions are quickly closing the gap on the division’s best. Per Oddschecker, Detroit (5-7) is a two-point favorite at home against Minnesota (10-2) on Sunday.

Through Week 6, per Football Outsiders, Minnesota was the best team in the NFC North, finishing that week No. 17 (negative-3.1 percent) in FO’s Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric. The Lions were 24th (negative-11.4 percent) through that same period.

Per Football Outsiders, DVOA “breaks down every single NFL play and compares a team’s performance to a league baseline based on situation in order to determine value over average.”

In the simplest of terms, good teams have a positive overall DVOA, while bad teams are in the negative.

Over the past seven weeks, Detroit is the division’s most impressive team via DVOA. The Lions are 11th in the metric between Weeks 7 and 13 (13.5 percent), while Minnesota is 24th (negative-12.4 percent).

Detroit’s surge has coincided with the defense transitioning from a liability into an asset. During its past seven games, the defense is allowing 22 points per game as opposed to 34 points in its first five games. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the turnaround began after the team’s Week 6 bye.

The Lions offense is sixth in scoring (26.3 points per game), and QB Jared Goff is quietly putting together a strong season. He is 263-of-405 (64.9 percent) for 3,022 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, one of the league’s top wideouts, leads the receiving corps. Among wide receivers with 100 targets in 2022, his catch percentage (76 percent) is highest, per Pro Football Reference.

St. Brown is Goff’s most reliable target, but the team now has another option for defenses to worry about.

In the 2022 NFL Draft, Detroit selected Jameson Williams 12th overall out of Alabama. In Week 13,  against the Jaguars, he made his season debut, playing 11 percent of the offensive snaps. He is working his way back from an ACL tear suffered against Georgia in last season’s national title game.

Williams’ reps against Jacksonville were important to his development. 

“Knowing where he’s gonna be, what the top of his breaks going to look like, so our quarterback can anticipate that throw, that goes a long way,” said offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, per’s Kevin Patra.

Williams’ big opportunity could come as soon as Sunday. Meanwhile, the Lions’ big opportunity to take over the division could come as soon as next season.

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