NFC North: Mick Tingelhoff

We're Black and Blue All Over:

For much of the offseason and early summer, I assumed that if the Detroit Lions' competition at strongside linebacker was close, it would go to one of the second-year players -- Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead -- who were among those in contention. Apparently the competition was not close.

Veteran Ashlee Palmer, who has spent his career as a special-teams ace, has worked exclusively with the first team for the past two weeks, points out Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Coach Jim Schwartz hasn't named Palmer his Week 1 starter yet, but said: "I don't know that race is over yet, but he has certainly taken the lead."

Palmer has had a good camp by all accounts, but the competition must also be viewed in part as a disappointment after the Lions drafted Lewis and Whitehead last summer knowing that both of their 2012 outside linebackers -- DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant -- were in the final year of their contracts. Levy re-signed in the offseason, but neither Lewis nor Whitehead has been able to slip into Durant's role. (We discussed the Lions' late-round draft issues Tuesday.)

Continuing around the NFC North:

BBAO: Clayton on Steven Jackson

February, 12, 2013
2/12/13
8:20
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Well then. It's one thing for me to suggest that free-agent running back Steven Jackson would make some sense for the Green Bay Packers. It's quite another for ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton to make a similar assertion.

Here's how Clayton put it in his most recent mailbag when asked if Packers general manager Ted Thompson might step out of his standard practice and make Jackson a competitive offer:

"I think that would be a great idea. Jackson isn't going to make $7 million this year. Jackson has until the start of free agency to void the last year of his Rams contract. Although the Rams want him back, I think he will hit the market. If that is the case, Thompson could offer $5 million and see whether that could lure Jackson to Green Bay. He would be perfect for that offense."

Once again, we are at the height of the NFL's silly season. When free agency opens next month, Jackson might have already re-signed with the St. Louis Rams or he might be retired. But if he's available, expect outside observers to quickly make the connection to the Packers.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Best Vikings Team Ever: 1969

July, 1, 2010
7/01/10
12:00
PM ET
Notable players: Defensive linemen Carl Eller, Gary Larsen, Alan Page and Jim Marshall; receiver Gene Washington; center Mick Tingelhoff; quarterback Joe Kapp; safety Paul Krause.

Carl Eller
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireCarl Eller was part of a Vikings defense that allowed just 133 points in 1969.
Analysis: On the strength of a defensive line that sent all four starters to the Pro Bowl, the 1969 Vikings won 12 consecutive games and became the first NFL expansion team to reach a Super Bowl. The “Purple People Eaters” defense allowed the fewest points in the league that season (133), while the Vikings offense scored a league-high 379 points.

NFL Films recently produced a series naming the 1969 Vikings one of the five best teams in league history that didn’t win the Super Bowl. The 1998 Vikings were also on that list, but the ’69 team was more balanced. Its offense scored at least 50 points in three different games, while the defense allowed the fewest points, yardage and first downs in the NFL while ranking second in takeaways. The 12-game winning streak was the longest in a 35-year span of the league.

The team’s two losses that season came by one point at the New York Giants in the season opener and by a touchdown in the season finale at Atlanta. Both defeats came with starting quarterback Joe Kapp sidelined and backup Gary Cuozzo taking most of the snaps. Despite the presence of three future Hall of Famers (Eller, Page and Krause), Kapp was named MVP for the way he inspired a team-oriented concept throughout the year.

In a legendary gesture, Kapp turned down the award and reiterated the team’s battle cry that season: “40 for 60” -- 40 players committed for 60 minutes of football. Players were so confident in the sum total of their talent that they often laughed at opponents when they celebrated touchdowns.

Speaking in the NFL Films piece, Marshall said opponents would ask why they were laughing when they had just given up a touchdown. “Yeah,” Marshall said, “but you’re not going to win the game. We are.”

There was a sense of destiny for this team, and its 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV was stunning. But when you consider the four Vikings teams that went to the Super Bowl, as well as the 1998 team that just missed it, you have to consider the 1969 group as the most dominant.

Most impressive victory: Tie for the team’s collective work against the 10-3 Cleveland Browns. The Vikings took two games against the Browns by a combined score of 78-10, including a 51-3 romp in the regular season and a 27-7 victory in the NFL Championship Game.

Did you know? The 1969 Vikings won the last NFL Championship in history. The NFL and AFL merged the year afterward, creating conference championships that fed into the Super Bowl.

Honorable mention

1998: Finished a franchise-best 15-1, set the NFL record (since broken) with 556 points scored and made it to NFC Championship Game.

1973: Advanced to Super Bowl VIII with a 12-2 record and a resounding victory at Dallas in the NFC Championship Game.

1976: This team’s two losses came by a total of five points. It breezed through the playoffs before a 32-14 loss to Oakland in Super Bowl XI.

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NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8