NFC North 'is up for anybody who wants it'

I typically put my best virtual stiff arm on all attempts to project the division finish until at least after the draft, if not once after training camp. It's a fun debate whenever we have it, but I figure we should at least have a strong sense of the makeup of each roster before diving in.

So consider this post a preview to that inevitable discussion, spurred by an interesting analogy from Detroit Lions receiver Nate Burleson during an appearance this week on the NFL Network. (Video here.)

Burleson was asked if the Lions are ready to win the division. His full response:

"I think so. I don't want to sit here and tell you what we're going to do. Obviously I'm confident in the team. We lost a couple close games to Green Bay, split with Chicago, and had a good showing against Minnesota last year.

"But from an outside perspective, I think everybody looks at it like this: Green Bay is driving the car. Up front in the passenger seat is Chicago. In the back, you've got the Vikings and you've got the Lions. We're sitting there begging them, asking them, 'Are we there yet, are we there yet?'

"It's time for us to get out of the car and see who wants to drive. The division is up for anybody who wants it. We've got a tough division, and I like it."

Why are the Bears in the front seat and why are the Lions still in the restless kids' area? Perhaps Burleson was recognizing -- fairly, I think -- that the Bears had a step on the Lions last season until quarterback Jay Cutler's fractured thumb changed the outlook. Would the Lions have been a playoff team if Cutler stayed healthy? Fair question.

The Packers, who won the Super Bowl in 2010 and were 15-1 last season, will get the benefit of the doubt in most national discussions. But if the point of Burleson's response was to suggest this is a three-team race (sorry, Vikings), then I'm on board. The Lions did enough last season to be rightfully included in the discussion with the Packers and Bears. Let's see if anyone's draft changes the parameters of this debate.