There are five Detroit Lions who have a great shot at getting to their first Pro Bowl after the 2012 season.
Five Lions in the Pro Bowl? Sounds crazy, right? The last time the Lions sent five men to the Pro Bowl was 1994 when Chris Spielman, Mel Gray, Lomas Brown, Kevin Glover, Herman Moore and Barry Sanders were voted to the team in the same year.
Last year the Lions, as a team, jumped back onto the NFL radar, and with another winning season, it's possible that the perk of heading to Hawaii will be offered to Lions without the Megatron moniker.
Am I serving the cornbread? Have I tapped the Honolulu Blue Keg? Yeah, I have a firm grip on a Red Solo Cup of optimism right now and I’m buttering the bread as we speak. The 4th of July always puts me in a great mood.
To earn a trip to the island of Oahu, you don’t have to be the best at your position. The Pro Bowl is now played the week prior to the Super Bowl, so players from the NFC Champion are automatically eliminated.
Additionally, recent years have shown a dramatic increase in players passing on the offer because of injuries or pending contracts, so the opportunities to get the call have increased dramatically.
Whether you’re the first choice or the third, if you get a blue jersey with your name on it, you are an NFC Pro Bowler and there are five Lions who could get lei'd after the 2012 campaign.
Grab a cup and step up to the tap; following is the Kool-Aid edition of the Van Etten V…
Could the perceived weakest part of the Lions’ defense actually send one of their own to Hawaii?
Chris Houston had one of the best years of his young career in 2011. With 54 tackles and 14 passes defended, he showed that he is the best corner on the roster.
But with five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, he is beginning to look like one of the better corners in the conference.
Yes, he is a benefactor of an aggressive defensive front hell bent on getting to the quarterback, but there were only a handful of corners last year that had more picks than Houston.
This year Houston will get to test his skills against some of the best wideouts in the league. The Lions schedule has DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Roddy White testing Houston’s talents once this year, while Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall will go mano a mano with Houston twice.
Back-to-back big seasons should give Houston the recognition he deserves and could send him to his first Pro Bowl, especially given the talent he will be up against.
If a full offseason in the classroom can help this young defense become more disciplined and consistent, the numbers for Houston should be similar, at minimum.
Let’s not forget, it’ll be contract time for Houston and he’ll be looking to cash in on the final year of his deal.
We can all agree the O-line is not the catalyst for the success of the Detroit Lions, but at some point the explosive offense will get some recognition for the front five and the first in line will be Rob Sims.
Even though he’s the best in his own locker room, Sims knew he wasn’t maximizing his talents and the former Buckeye has packed on an additional 15-20 pounds in the offseason to take his game to the next level for 2012.
But this wasn’t a Damien Woody trip to Burger King. Sims consulted his coaching staff and worked with a dietitian to combine a new workout regimen with healthy meals prepared by a personal chef to add the additional weight effectively.
Can Sims become the first offensive lineman from Detroit to make the Pro Bowl since Kevin Glover in 1997? It remains to be seen, but if the offense keeps rolling in 2012, the offensive line cannot be ignored and the most likely player to receive recognition will be Sims.
Is there another player in the NFL more motivated for 2012 than Cliff Avril?
After posting 36 tackles, 11 sacks, six forced fumbles and three recoveries, Avril was ready to cash in on his career-best 2011 campaign.
But with Calvin Johnson and Stephen Tulloch sitting higher on the food chain, Avril was slapped with the franchise tag after signing a one-year RFA deal in 2011 when again he was asked to be patient with regards to a long-term deal.
Are the Lions that comfortable with Willie Young? Young has looked good in limited action, but is he ready to take over the majority of snaps? Avril showed last year he could do damage play-after-play, game-after-game, even while Suh served his two-game suspension.
The clock is ticking on another empty promise for Avril as he must sign a long-term deal by July 16 or play the 2012 season with Rod Tidwell conviction.
If Avril is forced to play again for his financial career, expect a monster year from Avril. At 26, he is at the peak of his career and will never have more earning power than the present. A trip to Honolulu will only validate his contract demands and he will be shown the money.
Much of the offseason talk has centered around the slot receivers on the roster, but Brandon Pettigrew is poised to take the next step.
The second leading receiver on the team had more receptions than any other NFC tight end in 2011 except the Saints' Jimmy Graham.
Ever since his disappointing rookie year that was plagued with injury, Pettigrew has continued to progress and now is a critical component of the Lions' passing attack.
Many questioned the selection of Pettigrew in 2009 when Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher was still on the board, but Martin Mayhew went with the big tight end from Oklahoma State and Pettigrew has make the trade of Roy Williams to Dallas more one-sided every year.
Taking a tight end in the first round signals Pro Bowl expectations, and if Pettigrew has another year like 2011, Mayhew’s selection will be validated.
Is it possible these two will be the starting quarterbacks for the Pro Bowl?
It might have sounded crazy 12 months ago, but if I had to put money on one of them today, it would be Matthew Stafford.
You didn't really think I was going to keep Stafford off of this list, did you?
After finishing his first complete schedule under center, all the noteworthy single-season Lions’ franchise records now belong to the 24-year old Stafford.
Completions, yards, touchdowns and QB rating all belong to Stafford (for quarterbacks who started at least eight games and threw at minimum 50 passes in a season).
More importantly, with a franchise best 663 attempts, his completion percentage topped the charts as well at 63.5 percent.
Could he be the first Lions QB since Greg Landry in 1971 to take a snap in Aloha Stadium?
To quote the great Magic 8-ball, “Signs point to yes.”
Stafford will enter 2012 healthy again and with a full offseason of film study and bookwork with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan the NFL game should continue to slow down for No. 9.
Plus, the offense will add more weapons to the arsenal with Mikel Leshoure and rookie Ryan Broyles thrown into the mix. The potential is there for Stafford to again post crazy numbers and solidify his spot as one of the elite at the position.
Will he get to 5,000 yards passing again in 2012? Probably not, but a 4,500 yard season with 30 touchdowns will easily put him into Pro Bowl consideration and an NFC North title will likely place him in the Polynesian paradise.