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Monday, May 11, 2009

What To Expect From The 2009 Detroit Lions

One of the hardest things for an NFL team to accomplish in a season is to go from worst to first; that is to turn a dismal season around and go from last in the division to the divisional winner and earn a playoff berth. It was accomplished by the 2008 Miami Dolphins who narrowly escaped infamy in 2007 by winning just one game, but then somehow turned things around the following year and won the AFC South. The 2008 Detroit Lions did not escape infamy; they became the only team in league history to lose 16 regular season games in a row and end the season winless. The Lions have made some major changes, from the front office to the field in an effort to turn the organization around. But can they realistically win their division and make a playoff run?

It all starts in the division in question; the NFC North. It is made up of 4 NFL teams: the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit. The last time the Lions won the division was in 1993. Back then it was called the NFC Central and included the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Out of the 4 current NFC North teams, Detroit has the fewest divisional titles and no Super Bowl wins or appearances.

I cannot think of any team that would have a tougher time going from worst to first than Detroit. But for argument's sake, lets discuss their chances. They started off the rebuilding by firing GM Matt Millen and head coach Rod Marinelli. Martin Mayhew replaced Millen and Jim Schwartz, the former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, was hired as head coach. The Lions received the #1 pick in the 2009 draft and used it to acquire QB Matthew Stafford, out of Georgia. Other notable picks from the draft include TE Brandon Pettigrew from Oklahoma State and Louis Delmas from Western Michigan University.

The Lions also are trying to ignite a tired and weary fan base in Detroit. In addition to the heart break of a 0-16 season, the city of Detroit and the entire state of Michigan has been in economic peril for the past few years. With the auto industry suffering a downward spiral, many citizens are struggling to recover from financial difficulties and football tickets are not in their agenda. The Lions had 4 blackout games last season due to low attendance at Ford Field. A new campaign to get fans fired up again is underway. New uniforms and the heavy promotion of the new head coach and their #1 draft pick Stafford is hitting the airwaves. But, Stafford's hefty rookie contract (almost $42 million guaranteed) is getting major backlash from fans who have continued to suffer in Michigan's long economic recession.

In order for the Lions to have any chance at winning the division, they would have to win some games vs. their divisional competition. Last season's divisional winner was the Minnesota Vikings with a 10-6 record. The Vikings have the best running back in football in Adrian Peterson. Their defense, led by Jared Allen, was ranked 13th last season. By most accounts, the Vikings look like the team to beat in the NFC North. However, the Chicago Bears added QB Jay Cutler in the famous trade made with the Broncos. Cutler adds a component to the Bears that most feel was needed for them to make another Super Bowl run. The Green Bay Packers are always a tough opponent for any team they play and Detroit has always struggled to beat them.

The Lions must also find a way to win on the road. Detroit has become notorious for having long road win droughts. They went 3 straight seasons without a road win (2001-2003). The 24 game streak was the longest in NFL history. Of course with their winless season last year, Detroit again failed to win one on the road.

With a lackluster fan base, a new front office, and a new coaching staff, Detroit's chances of going from worst to first are very slim. However, both the Lions and the state of Michigan have the characteristics to turn things around; toughness and resilience. It may take a few seasons and a few more key position changes, but the Lions will find a way to bounce back and make a return appearance to the playoffs. Just don't look for that to happen next season.

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