Friday, August 12, 2011

If Stafford Stays Healthy, Detroit Lions Will Be a Force In The NFC North

For the past few years, the Detroit Lions have seemed to be on the cusp of a winning season.  However, some really bad luck and some unfortunate injuries at key positions conspired against them.  If they can avoid these pitfalls, I can see the Lions as a potential wild card.

Am I crazy? Let's look at why I believe this:

  • Third-year quarterback Matthew Stafford finally has a healthy throwing shoulder.  In his rookie year, he missed six games due to (non-throwing) shoulder and knee injuries.  Last year, he injured his right shoulder in the first game. He attempted to come back later in the year only to re-injure the same area and then have season-ending shoulder surgery.  He's only played in 13 games, but when he has played he's lit it up. He's a potential top-tier quarterback if he can get some consistent playing experience.

  • They have the most fearsome defense front four in the NFL.  At left tackle is Clif Avril, a four-year vet who had 8.5 sacks in 13 games last year.  Left guard is Ndamukong Suh, last year's #2 overall pick.  He had 10 sacks as a rookie.  Right guard is rookie Nick Fairley, who dropped in the Draft to the Lions after some teams had concerns about his work ethic and character.  He will most likely miss most of pre-season after having surgery on his left foot.  Right tackle is NFL veteran Kyle Vandenbosch, who provides this young group with much needed veteran leadership.  

  • Head Coach Jim Schwartz really knows what the hell he is doing.  In complete contrast to the past couple coaches that the Lions have endured (as well as a pitiful front office), Lions management seems to have finally pulled it together.  Getting Schwartz from Tennessee three years ago was probably the best decision they had made in over a decade.  He served as a defensive coordinator  for Jeff Fisher for eight years, and clearly learned a great deal under him.  Let's remember that he inherited a shamble of a roster when he was hired, and has done a great deal of work in vastly upgrading it.  
  • Outside of what should be a brutal NFC north schedule, the Lions are playing the AFC West (Chiefs, Broncos, Raiders, Chargers) and should be able to win as many games against those groups as the Bears and Packers will.  They also have to play the NFC South (Panthers, Falcons, Saints, and Buccaneers), and then also Dallas and San Francisco.  The biggest challenge I see with the schedule is starting the season with three of the first four games on the road. 
  • If things fall their way, and Stafford and that front defensive line stay healthy, I could see the Lions surprising a lot of analysts and winning ten games this year.  

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