NFC North tour: Lions use ‘P' word

Detroit RB Kevin Smith talks boldly of playoffs, Chicago LB Jamar Williams disappears, Brett Favre talk goes on (and on) in Minnesota.

The Lions have talked a better game than they've played in recent years. Remember former quarterback Jon Kitna's repeated talk of winning 10 games while the Lions remained mired in one of the NFL's worst losing stretches? Remember former wide receiver Roy Williams guaranteeing a victory at Chicago, only to see the Lions get blown out?

It hasn't stopped now that the Lions are coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season. At best, it is a display of defiant pride and confidence that things will change. At worst, it is unwise and unwarranted gab that will only make the Lions more of a laughingstock.

Running back Kevin Smith is at the center of the storm this time. In his blog at smith34.com, he wrote: "I won't make a prediction about how many games we're going to win, but I will say this: We will definitely make the playoffs this season."

The playoffs? The Lions haven't made the playoffs since 2000 and haven't had a winning season since 1999. How are they going to make it now after not winning a game last season — and winning only one of their past 24 games?

"Believe it or not, we weren't that far off last year," Smith wrote. "Almost every game we could have won, we were one play or one player short. Except for Tennessee on Thanksgiving, they just came out and beat us to sleep. They manhandled us, but nobody else did."

A lot of people would argue with that. But the Lions are supporting Smith, even if they wouldn't be as bold.

"I like his enthusiasm," coach Jim Schwartz said. "I don't want to discourage enthusiasm, but the playoffs are a long way away. What's more important is what happens today, how we practice today. Those are the things that we need to take care of on a daily basis and that's been the message. We need to set goals on a shorter scale than further on down the line. We don't want to talk about Super Bowls or playoffs or those kinds of things or even the opener right now."

Defensive end Cliff Avril, a fellow third-round pick last year, blogged himself at avril92.com.

"Everyone heard what Kevin said about the Lions making the playoffs this year, and to us it just shows that Kevin has a lot of confidence," Avril wrote. "He's very outspoken, and you really need that confidence to succeed in this league.

"As for us making the playoffs, I think that is very, very possible. I'm definitely right with Kevin; we have a good enough team. Now it's all about getting out there and proving it."

Bears: Where's Williams?

A couple years ago, linebacker Jamar Williams appeared to be on the fast track to a starting job, especially when the Bears' contract talks with Lance Briggs became contentious.

After being drafted in the fourth round in 2006 out of Arizona State, Williams played in all 16 games the following season and started once. When Briggs suffered a hamstring injury just before halftime against the Cowboys in 2007, Williams stepped in and made a career-best 12 tackles.

But last season, Williams seemed to regress. He was passed on the depth chart by Northwestern's Nick Roach, who replaced Hunter Hillenmeyer as the starting strong-side linebacker while Williams was relegated to special teams, where he finished as the Bears' second-leading tackler.

"It's tough for anybody when somebody moves in front of you," Williams said. "But at the same time, I trust the coaches' decisions, and Nick did a great job filling in there. This year, hopefully I can get in at a position where I can compete for the third starting job, but whatever happens, I just want to go out here and work my hardest to make sure this team gets to the Super Bowl. That's No. 1 to me."

If the offseason is a good indication, Williams may be back as a contender for a starting job, or at least as the top backup. He has been arguably the Bears' most impressive player in the offseason.

"You can see the athlete that he is," general manager Jerry Angelo said on the team's web site. "It's his awareness and confidence levels that stand out."

Angelo added that last year's decision to move Roach past Williams was a difficult one.

"To me, it was a photo finish," Angelo said. "We've always liked Jamar. I think he's a three-down player. He's bright, he's athletic, he's fast and he's tough. There's nothing not to like about him. What we're seeing now is what we saw when he was in college and what we drafted."

Williams has made coaches take notice of his play on an almost daily basis during OTA practices.

"He had three picks in five days," defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Bob Babich said. "He's made some big plays. He's really progressed. This is his fourth year in the system, so we expect Jamar to do those type things."

But Williams might have an even tougher time getting on the field with the defense this season. Not only will he be competing with Roach and Hillenmeyer for the job on the strong side, but the Bears have added standout veteran Pisa Tinoisamoa, who led the Rams in tackles in four of his six seasons in St. Louis.

Vikings: Is Favre-Childress a match?

The fact Brett Favre reportedly underwent surgery on his throwing arm to repair a partially torn biceps tendon means it's going to take a while longer for the retired quarterback to decide if he will be able to play in 2009.

But it appears almost certain now that if Favre feels he's good to go that he will be starting for the Vikings when they open the season on Sept. 13 in Cleveland.

"My opinion is that (Favre) was a great player," Vikings coach Brad Childress told Twin Cities-based all-sports station KFAN. "He obviously had a setback last year. He was playing very well early. If in fact he's had that surgery, I'm anxious to see just exactly what he's got left in that cannon because he had a pretty good arm as we know."

It remains unclear when Childress might get a chance to see Favre throw, but Childress did say he talked to Favre as recently as last week.

If Favre does return, one point of interest will be how he and Childress co-exist. Favre has long been known as a gunslinger and Childress is a stickler for detail when it comes to the West Coast offense.

"I think it's more of, just like you talk about with a quarterback, can he manage a game?" Childress said. "I think it's more about that. And then you letting him know your expectations and how we're playing the game here and what we value here. Those are different virtually everywhere you go and every system you play in."

Favre's presence in Minnesota would mean that Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels would be pushed to the sideline. Those two had been expected to battle for the starting job in training camp. Rosenfels was acquired from Houston in February for a fourth-round pick.

"I talked with Sage and Tarvaris," Childress said. "They are competitors. Do they like any of the conversation (about Favre coming)? Absolutely not. But they know this. I'm charged with adding and subtracting players from this team to make us better.

"Every day when I walk in this office there's not a day that I don't try to look and see if we can get better at some position. And if this is going to make us better down the road and it's got a chance to happen, I'm going to take care of the Minnesota Vikings."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.

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