(ALLEN PARK) - After passing a critical test on their development to becoming a playoff team with their win over Atlanta, the Detroit Lions have a chance to make an move upward in the NFC North division this Sunday.
The Lions (3-1) will face a reeling Green Bay Packers (1-4) team that has shown little defensively and just enough offensively to still be dangerous. But this is no wounded animal. This is a bad football team.
The Packers have been living on the fumes of the Ron Wolf regime.
Wolf, the longtime architect of the the Super Bowl contending Packers teams of the 80's and early 90's is long gone and by the looks of the last few Green Bay drafts, they need to ask him to return.
It was Wolf who adroitly moved to acquire a little known third-string quarterback from the Atlanta Falcons for the unheard of price of a first round pick.
One-hundred and ninety four straight games and two Super Bowl appearances later, Brett Favre still is under center for a team clad in green-and-gold that hardly resembles the Packer teams of the past.
Green Bay, behind Favre, has provided many heart breaking moments in Lions history. There was Favre and Shannon Sharpe stealing away a playoff game from the Lions in 1993 at the Silverdome.
There was Reggie White and the Packers defense holding Lions hall-of-fame running back Barry Sanders to a career-low minus 1 yards rushing in 1994 in a 16-12 playoff loss. Those wins helped catapult Green Bay to an eventual Super Bowl team. They left the Lions in the also-ran category.
But the glory days of the Green Bay Packers are gone.
The Packers have been hit hard by players exiting in free agency, poor drafts, costly draft day trades that misfired and injuries. However the worst move the Packers made might have been elevating Mike Sherman, a virtual unknown outside of Green Bay, to executive vice president-general manager and head coach after just one season as head coach. Sherman's previous experience was as Green Bay's tight ends coach and one season as Holmgren's offensive coordinator in Seattle.
Wolf felt that Sherman would be an outstanding head coach, but when he decided to head into retirment, it was Packers executive vice president Bob Hartley who gave Sherman the dual role that former coach Mike Holmgren dearly wanted.
If any organization should have known that its too much for one man to play two major roles in a franchise, it should have been Green Bay.
Holmgren openly fueded with Wolf over input into the draft and eventually left for the Pacfic Northwest and Seattle where he got both positions. He struggled in the dual role of head coach/GM and eventually, the man who had brought the Packers two Super Bowl championships and three appearances in the big game, was stripped of his GM duties. He remains as head coach.
Sherman, who compiled nine, twelve and ten win seasons with the majority of Wolf's players on his roster is struggling now with both the draft, free agency and trying to handle the stress of both roles.
Detroit has been at that road and saw Green Bay on the other side before.
When both Detroit and Green Bay were rising in the early 90's for dominance of the NFC Central, the 1992 playoff loss to Green Bay when Favre's last minute heave clear across the field on a scramble was like a dagger in the Lions heart. They never recovered, instead searching for answers from coaches Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross, Gary Moeller and Marty Mornhinweg.
They're both back at that same road, but now these are two teams going in opposite directions.
Detroit is clearly the better positioned franchise. After three early years of floundering by Matt Millen, he now has the solid football mind of Steve Mariucci to assist in making decisions critical to the franchise.
Detroit has had back-to-back outstanding drafts while Mariucci and Sheldon White's personnel input in free agency seem to have righted the ship there. Detroit is young, fast and deeper than they have been in years.
While the injury bug has hit Detroit hard, the depth seems to be filling the holes in ways not seen in Motown prior to today. Green Bay is that old bully, still hoping to intimidate the Lions and survive to fight one more day.
There are some big questions to be answered. Has Detroit gained enough confidence to beat a team with as much history and championship confidence as Green Bay, even at home? Are the Lions really ready to shed the loser mentality they've developed over the last three sub .500 seasons? Does Detroit have enough players who have what it takes to look a champion in the eye and not blink?
There's an old saying that the only way to beat a champion is to knock them out.
The Lions have a chance to show 'em their left hook on Sunday.
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