To even suggest that the Detroit Lions could immediately rebound from a legendarily dreadful 0-16 season and have a winning record the very next year is madness, right? Not if last year's Miami Dolphins are any indication.
The fact of the matter is that the 2009 Detroit Lions are a completely different team and a completely different franchise than they were in their winless season a year ago.
The most important, long awaited change was getting rid of GM Matt Millen. Let him be a broadcaster or analyst, but that man should never be allowed to make decisions for an NFL franchise again.
The promotion of new GM Martin Mayhew was initially scoffed at as more Ford cronyism, but he immediately improved the Lions by trading away WR Roy Williams and a seventh round pick for a first, third, and sixth round pick from Dallas.
In retrospect, this trade has got to be seen as a tremendous steal for Detroit, as Williams failed to help the Cowboys at all last year. In making this trade, and following it up with a solid draft and free agent acquisitions, he's more than proved himself.
The second move that should start moving the Lions in the right direction is the hiring of former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He will bring a gritty, defense-minded mentality to a team in desperate need of some defensive help.
Now there's a fairly large majority of Lions fans who think that this year's draft was a disaster. I tend to disagree.
Let's start with Matthew Stafford. Yes, we may have overpaid him and he's far from a sure thing, but the Lions got the guy they wanted, and who are we to argue?
Fans can look ahead to next year's draft all they want, but is Sam Bradford or Colt McCoy really going to be any better? The Lions need a franchise quarterback, and after an 0-16 season, it is time to take a chance.
I doubt Stafford will play this year anyway, and if he does, it won't be until the season is already down the tubes. Judging by all the reports coming from the Lions, Daunte Culpepper is in the best shape of his life, and is looking like he should at least be better than he was in '08.
Moving on to the next couple of picks; Brandon Pettigrew and Louis Delmas.
Fans were livid that Detroit failed to address the offensive line, defensive line, or linebacker position. In my opinion, when a team has as many holes to fill as the Lions do, it doesn't matter what position you draft as long as you get players that can improve the team.
Pettigrew provides a top-notch tight end, which is a position the Lions have never been deep at. When Matthew Stafford becomes the starting quarterback, Pettigrew is going to be a godsend, as he will function as a safety valve and check down option, not to mention the fact that he's considered a terrific blocking tight end.
When the Lions took Louis Delmas, the safety from Western Michigan, there were a lot of people that were furious that Detroit didn't draft Rey Maualuga.
In retrospect though, why not take the best safety available? It's not like the Lions couldn't use some help in the secondary. Delmas will immediately be able to come in and make some plays for the Lions, something their safeties couldn't do last year.
Free agency was very kind to the Lions as well. They managed to pick up linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson, cornerback Philip Buchanan, and running back Maurice Morris, as well as two veteran receivers, in Ronald Curry and Bryant Johnson, to play opposite Calvin Johnson—aka "Megatron".
So lets summarize these improvements.
Better secondary: check
Better linebackers: check
Franchise quarterback: check
So the Lions opted to work from the outside in, and all but neglected their offensive and defensive lines. They had far too many holes to fill, and it's a fool's errand to try to remedy all of them in one offseason.
Though they might not have made all the fans happy, the Detroit Lions still managed to make dramatic improvements on their offense and defense, and it should start paying dividends as early as this year.
Being that they're in the NFC North, the Lions do have a rough road ahead of them this year.
Long story short—the Lions are the worst team in the division.
Why then do I believe they could win eight games this year? Because of their defense.
Scoring points was not an issue for the Lions, and it won't be this year. Calvin Johnson and Kevin Smith will put up points, no matter who the quarterback is.
Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, and Ernie Sims will start at linebacker for the Lions this year. That is a frightening prospect for any opposing quarterback or running back. Though the D-line could still use some work, the linebackers should help stop teams from running all over the Lions like they did last year.
The additions made to the secondary were outstanding as well, and I'd be surprised if there are many 300 yard passing games against Detroit in 2009. They're just that much better now.
So while there are still holes to fill, Martin Mayhew, Jim Schwartz, and the Detroit Lions just might manage to do the impossible this year and get a winning record.
So there it is, the Detroit Lions will win nine games this year, and with some luck they might even make the playoffs.
It's a bold prediction and I have a hard time believing it myself, but they just look too good on paper to have another season like 2008.
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