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The Million Dollar Ask: Will Matt Stafford or Daunte Culpepper Lead the Lions?

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The Million Dollar Ask: Will Matt Stafford or Daunte Culpepper Lead the Lions?
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Guns or butter?

The age-old economics question is being asked once again about the state of Michigan's uncertain future, but this time on the Allen Park gridiron.

Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford will practice together for the first time this week, and it's the positional battle everyone in the Mitten state is debating (including the two quarterbacks, albeit unspoken).

Guns: Will Culpepper be the mentor to Stafford and have a comeback year?

Butter: Or will Stafford start right away like Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan, demoting Culpepper to backup status?

Most fans are evenly divided on the big ask. It's a toughie.

Do you sit a guy who signed a contract for $41 million so he can learn the ropes and not end up at the end of one like Joey Harrington?

Or start him because he's too expensive to hold the clipboard and, like his oft-quoted comparison to Troy Aikman, figure he has to enter the School of Hard-knocks sometime?

Let's rub the crystal football and try to see into the NFC North's future.

 

Daunte Culpepper

Culpepper came in last season in a desperate move to salvage Ford's Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck called the Detroit Lions. It was an unfair ask, but Daunte tried to do what he could while being rusty, overweight, and ignorant of the Lions' playbook.

Now he's been training for six months, lost 30 pounds, and knows the playbook better than any of his competition. He's prepared and motivated to prove everyone wrong.

Hell hath no fury like a "washed up" quarterback who's ticked off.

He's also reunited with Scott Linehan, who coached him to pro bowl status with the Vikings and all sorts of records over three seasons. 

A big scale-tipper? Maybe, but Linehan also wanted Stafford.

These are all good omens for him to seize the Lions' share of snaps. He'll get a good chance to prove his veteran worth this summer and then probably start all four exhibition games.

 

Matthew Stafford

He is an established college winner. Smart and strong-armed with lots of zip, Stafford has unbounded enthusiasm and is ready to earn his frogskins. 

This Bulldog has plenty to prove, too. 

Don't think all those boo-birds at Radio City didn't register in his motivational account. There's a sizable chip on his shoulder pads just begging to be shoved.

But Stafford has more question marks than Frank Gorshin's green tights.

Will starting as a rookie with a brittle line ruin him or, even worse, end his season or career? 

Will he lose his confidence getting sacked and hurried into interceptions, ultimately burying the Lee Majors of the Lions with cascading boos? 

And the real question of poise off the field: Can he handle the losing and not flip out at the post-game pressers, ending up on a beer commercial with Mora?

"Playoffs? Playoffs?"

 

The Smart Ask

This is where Jim Schwartz will earn his paycheck and prove to the Lions' fans that his Georgetown economics degree was well deserved.

Answering the million-dollar question will be the biggest ask of his life and ultimately determine the length of his head coaching status in the NFL.  No pressure, eh?

Make no mistake about it; lots of Allen Park careers are hooked to the Stafford Edsel, and first in line is the former Titans DC, with room in the backseat for Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand.

So what is the deciding factor on who will start for the Lions?

It will not be their past successes (Culpepper's Viking playoff wins with Randy Moss and three pro bowls, or Stafford's three straight bowl wins with a 27-7 record and his premier draft status).

Nor will it be their past failures (Culpepper became the backup to Harrington in Miami and was basically out of football until last year, while Stafford lost his National Championship opportunity entering the 2008 season as the top-ranked team in the nation and looked average against MSU in their Meaningless Bowl).

It will all come down, as it always does, to their actual performance now, between the chalk lines, over the next 117 days. Then it's the New Orleans Saints' turn to test the Schwartz answer.

All things being equal, you have to give Culpepper the slightest edge with his experience.

But if Daunte earns the starting spot, then the final determination will be actual wins in the season. If they are a .500 team by Thanksgiving, Stafford will probably get very limited opportunities. 

If Culpepper is not producing, however, and that will be glaring by the sixth game, then the logical query will be, why not toss the rookie to the Rams in Detroit for week eight? 

He'll have a bye week in between to work with the starters.

So you have to wonder, will the Lions have the courage (and the brains) to answer the smart ask...correctly? 

Guns or butter?

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