Monday, August 3, 2009

New Beginnings: Detroit Lions Season Preview

2008 Record: 0-16

Where do you even start with the Lions? The NFL hasn't seen a team this bad since the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Creamsicle Bucs hold the record for most consecutive losses at 26. Does this Lions team have a shot at the mark? Detroit's losing streak currently stands at 17 games, by virtue of their 25-20 win in Week 16 of 2007 over the Kansas City Chiefs. That win stopped a 6-game losing streak and was part of a 1-7 crawl to the finish by the '07 Lions. The '08 Lions continued this trend by dropping all 16 games, putting them within 9 losses of the Bucs record. I don't think there's many out there that doubt if the Lions can start 0-6, with @NO, MIN, WAS, @CHI, PIT, @GB before their bye week. This would put the Lions within 2 losses of the Bucs, with the easiest part of their schedule to come. Week 8 against St. Louis might be their first real chance at a win, barring a stunning upset in their pre-bye schedule. After St. Louis the Lions travel to Seattle and Minnesota, where they will have the opportunity to tie the record.

Now the intriguing part. Week 10. Detroit. Guess who comes to town? The Browns. If the Lions are 0-9 at this point, they really couldn't hope for a better opponent to see on their schedule. Between home games against St. Louis and Cleveland, you have to think these Lions will get at least one tally on the board.

The Lions made some good decisions this off-season, which started with the firing of Matt "Draft a Wide Receiver" Millen from his GM post during last season. This was followed by the signing of former Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as their head coach. The new staff had a solid draft day, picking up a potential franchise passer in Matthew Stafford, a solid tight end in Brandon Pettigrew, and a good corner in Louis Delmas on day one.

From the Lions perspective, any player they could add to the roster would likely be better than the player in place, besides wideout Calvin Johnson. You had to feel for Johnson who was basically playing for a team inferior to the Georgia Tech squad he played on in college. In spite of this, and the fact that teams knew he was their only legitimate receiver, he posted 78 receptions, 1331 yds, and 12 TDs. Imagine what he could have done if he played on an actual team. The Lions traded WR Roy Williams to Dallas, who went from not tipping the pizza guy in Detroit, to doing nothing in Dallas. Rookie RB Kevin Smith also showed some flashes of potential, but was limited in his production behind the worst offensive line in the league. Smith posted 976 yards and 8 touchdowns while having some carries siphoned off by loose baggage Rudi Johnson.

The renovation came via free agency, as the team signed 7 offensive linemen (2 retained from their 08 roster), 3 linebackers, 2 cornerbacks, and 2 wide receivers. In addition, the team drafted Derrick Williams (WR-Penn State), who looked to be one of the more polished route-runners at the combine and we all know about his kick return skills. Williams should be a #3 receiver in years to come, and should fit the role very well. The Lions also picked up linebacker Julian Peterson from Seattle via trade. While some may say that Peterson has lost a step in recent years, he's still better than whoever the Lions had last season, and it was a risk Jim Schwartz had to be willing to take. The Lions also brought in hometown boy Larry Foote from Pittsburgh, who will fill the gap at the MLB position. Foote excelled in the run-stopping ILB role in the Steelers defense, where his lack of horizontal speed wasn't exposed. If Schwartz tries to use him in a rangy zone-coverage type role...well, nevermind, the results can't be any worse than last year.

Along with OLB Ernie Sims, the Lions might actually field a legitimate linebacking unit this season with Sims, Foote, and Peterson. Delmas should get plugged in at safety, and Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry (acquired from Dallas via trade for Jon Kitna) will be the starting corners. While this isn't close to an NFL-level secondary yet, they are moving in the right direction.

They also lost backup QB (and last season's leading passer) Dan Orlovsky to Houston in free agency. With Daunte Culpepper still on the roster and Matt Stafford coming in, the Lions are in a position similar to the one faced by Atlanta and Baltimore last season. The one difference is that the Lions O-Line is much, much worse than the lines either of these teams had. Former first round pick Gosder Cherilus will need to improve his form at right tackle. Adding Pettigrew adds a capable blocker at tight end, and this will help the run game, as well as keep Stafford safe. Let's face it. Things can't be any worse than they were last year. They might as well play Stafford.

He'd just be waiting time sitting on the bench.

Ian's Prediction: 2-14

The Lions face the NFC West and AFC North, meaning they get to face both Super Bowl XLIII participants, along with some really bad teams (St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati). Seattle and San Fran are both teams on the rise and Detroit has to go to the west coast to both of those games, so they're not likely wins. Honestly, this season will be a success if they put one win on the board, but I think there's enough potential (with Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith) to put up as many as five. The Lions are moving in the right direction and one more season of good free agency and good drafting might put them right back in the mix of an incredibly flawed NFC North.

John's Prediction:

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