Looking For A Super Bowl Darkhorse? How About The Detroit Lions?
If The Lions Have Learned How To Stop Self-Destructing, A Super Bowl Run Is Quite Possible
The Detroit Lions are going to the Super Bowl.
No, I have not lost my mind. I have not been drinking, and I do not do drugs. My mind is as clear as it has ever been (which, I will admit is quite debatable by some).
After making a statement like that I can understand why my sanity is in question. After all, the Lions have been one of the NFL's worst franchises. Consider the Lions are the only franchise in the NFL to lose all 16 regular season games. In 2008 they actually perfected imperfection, going 0-16. The Lions have won exactly one playoff game since 1957.
And, even when it looks like they may be on their way to doing something special, the Lions find a way to screw it up. They started the 2013 season out 6-3, and were in complete control of the NFC North Division, and their playoff destiny. Then they has a spectacular implosion, going 1-6 down the stretch to miss the playoffs.
Now, here is where you are really going to think I am nuts. The basic core of players that folded down the stretch last year, is the same core that I feel will lead the Lions to the Super Bowl this year.
Of course, for a team that went 7-9 the previous season to make a Super Bowl trip the next season, a lot of things have to be improved. The first improvement was firing coach Jim Schwartz and bringing in Jim Caldwell.
Caldwell's maturity and discipline is precisely what this team needed, after Schwartz, who wasn't a bad coach, but lacked those tenets. Look for Caldwell's leadership to have a tremendous impact on the Lions.
Next, the Lions' offense must do a far better job taking care of the ball. Last season the Lions turned the ball over 34 times, which is twice as many as the 17 the world champion Seattle Seahawks had.http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/team/_/stat/givetake
Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 29 touchdown passes last season, but he also had 19 interceptions. The Lions also lost 15 fumbles. That is simply far too many mistakes. If the Lions can cut those turnovers in half, they are a lock for the playoffs at the very least.
Because personnel wise, the Lions have no weaknesses on offense. Stafford's arm strength and ability is unquestioned, and going into his sixth season he is on the cusp of becoming an elite quarterback.
Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are arguably the best running back tandem in the league. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the game, and perhaps the NFL's best player. And now he has help from Golden Tate, and a much improved receiving corp. The unheralded offensive line might be the best in the NFL.
Many NFL observers would agree with the premise regarding the firepower of the Lions' offense. But what keeps them from taking the Lions serious is the perception that they are horrible on defense.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Lions' defense looked bad at times last year because they were often put in very difficult positions by the turnover prone offense.
You probably didn't know that last season the Lions had one of the NFL's best run defenses (ranked No. 6, 99.8 yards per game). The Lions also led the NFL in third down defense..http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/opponent-third-down-conversion-pct
If you have a defense that can stop the run, and get off the field on third down, which gives the ball back to a high powered offense, you got a chance. The unit is strong up from with Ndamukong Suh menacing quarterbacks, and middle linebacker Stephen Tullock, cleaning up everything left. There are two future stars on that unit with linebacker DeAndre Levy, and second year pass rusher Ziggy Ansah.
The question will be how the defensive backfield will hold up? Rasehan Mathis and Darius Slay are the starting cornerbacks. Mathis played well last year, but at 34, things could go bad quickly. Can he duplicate last year's consistent play? Slay, a second-round pick, is in his second year after a tumultuous rookie season.
I will admit this unit will never remind anyone of the Steel Curtain, but it is still good enough. The secondary will hold up mainly because the defensive line is going to be able to pressure the quarterback consistently with Suh, Ansah, Nick Fairly, who is going to have a huge year despite his preseason struggles, and a strong rotation of defensive lineman.
Certainly, Seattle is the favorite from the NFC. But repeating Super Bowl trips is a difficult thing to do. If the Seahawks slip up any kind of way, the Lions will be there to make their first Super Bowl trip in franchise history.