Step in line, I'm serving up some flavored water.
I'm looking at the Lions schedule and I see possibilities that most find impossible. I find hope where people are giving up. I see salvation where others see Flavor-Aid.
I see the Lions winning more than six games. I even see glimpses of a team that could make the playoffs.
Playoffs?! We're talking about playoffs?!
Okay, back down to earth. I see that it could happen. I see a Lions team that can play with just about anyone. Including the division-favorite Bears and the reigning champs the Steelers.
Wait. They only won once, and that was against a gosh-awful Washington Redskins team. Why do you think they have a chance against a good team?
Because they haven't given up. Not once this season have I seen the Lions give up. They've put pressure on teams they should have had no business playing with. They've learned from mistakes and improved with each game. They've shaken off the shackles from their predecessor's perfectly futile season. They've made their own identity and proved they weren't the same team that resided in Detroit a year ago.
In short, they're good.
Not great, but good. Anyone who actually thought that the Lions wouldn't win three games this year was looking at 2008 too much. Every writer in America made their predictions based on 2008 only.
They started off in typical Lion fashion, giving up a quick lead to New Orleans. Bar patrons started calling for their check. Same old Lions.
Wait. The Lions drove their next drive to cut it to 14-3. Okay, so we won't see the three straight 21-point deficits we saw last year, but they'll just march against us again. These are the Lions after all. Nope. Three and out. For the Saints. Since when can the Lions stop a top-tier offense on three (well, three and a penalty) plays?
We get another chance. We blow it, and the bar patrons start shelling out their tip. The Saints muff the punt. The Lions recover. They score a touchdown on a fourth and goal from the one. The game's within reach.
That was the last time they sniffed the Saints score, but even when they were trailing by 18 points, multiple times, they would fight for a score to try to keep it close. In the end, the Saints were too much.
However, many positives came from that game. The Lions scored more points in a game than they had since before this streak started. The special teams and defense each had highlights against an overpowered Saints offense. The following week, the Eagles, who are a playoff contender known for their defense, stunk it up worse on their own field against this Saints team.
The Lions also gave the Vikings a good game. Yes, the Vikings won by two touchdowns, but the game was a lot closer than that. The Lions led after the first half and required the Vikings to make heavy adjustments. They had done a great job of stopping Adrian Peterson, who ran for 180 yards the week before. They kept Favre in check. Three drives of the first four ended with punts on the fourth play.
The Vikings came out in the second half supremely motivated. They must have had something beat into them during those 12 minutes. They came out and dominated the second half to take a 17-point lead going into the final minutes.
Detroit was still fighting, though and cut it back to 14. Yes, Favre was out by then, but Minnesota gave a little respect to the Lions team. On a fourth and two, rather than kick a field goal to put the lead back up to 17, they went for it to ice the game. Did they really think the Lions could score 17 in two minutes? Probably not.
The Redskins game was a mess. If anything, I thought some of their play had dropped a bit since the Vikings game, but they did something that we didn't expect. They held the lead until the very end. The patrons in the bar, every one of them, expected the Lions to blow it. The two-point conversion failed.
We've seen the Lions give up 14 points in mere minutes. The Redskins got a touchdown. It was win or lose. A field goal doesn't make a difference, a touchdown wins it. The Lions get a first down, hope rises, then they blow it and punt.
Here we go again. The Lions have such a threadbare defense that Campbell is going to look like Elway. They let some yards go, and only let one play go out of bounds to stop the clock. Then they stiffen up. Incompletion, incompletion. Could this be it? The last pass, the last ditch effort, the lateral. Another lateral. Flashes of "The Band is on the field!" go through everybody's head. Foote gets the tackle.
A split second of silence as the crowd in the stadium and the ones in every bar around Michigan grasp what just happened. The Lions didn't blow it. Then a loud cry from each of them, even the bar patrons who were there to see the Bears, Browns and Patriots. I wonder if anyone in Michigan didn't know, it was so loud. All those who exited the bar and stadium missed a moment they'll never get back. The moment we'll tell our kids. The one we'll be spinning as "When the Lions started to get good", not "When the Lions stopped sucking". It really was a moment, much like the Gibson home run in the World Series. Maybe not on a global scale, but in our hearts.
But these are the Lions. It was the Washington Redskins, who barely beat the Rams. The Redskins are in such shambles the win doesn't count.
Whatever. The win counts. Not only does it count, but it gave the Lions a chance at being not-in-last-place for a couple of hours as Chicago struggled with the Seahawks. If Chicago lost, we're not in last place anymore (well at least when you consider tiebreakers and such).
The Lions are heading to Chicago where the linemakers are predicting that Chicago will win by double digits. Don't let the expert picks of the Lions fool you, they're still expecting the Lions to lose. But you know who doesn't expect the Lions to lose? Lovie Smith. Well, no, he's not expecting them to win, but he knows this team's not as bad as the critics say.
Chicago's not a team to sneeze at. They're looking at the playoffs this year, with the Super Bowl as their ultimate goal. The Lions haven't thought of that in a long time, at least not since this streak started. They should, though. It's not that they don't have a shot to make it. Right now, they have a better shot than the Tennessee Titans.
Are you kidding me? The Tennessee Titans? They'll make the playoffs easy.
They have a huge uphill battle. They're in last place, three games behind the red hot Colts. They should beat Jacksonville, but don't be so hasty. They lost a shootout to Houston at home, who in turn lost to Jacksonville at home. Jacksonville's hosting this game. Is it possible that the Titans, whom many picked to be in the Conference Championship, lose again? That would put them at 0-4, with Indianapolis next. 0-5's possible, and Indy would likely be 5-0. That's a long way to the playoffs.
Let's look at Detroit. They're 1-2, so already they're ahead. Only two games back from Minnesota. Probably a bit much to ask, as the Vikings already beat the Lions, so it's more like three games back.
Chicago's not invincible. In fact, I think we stand quite a bit better than the "ghost's chance" the experts and linemakers are calling. They're not playing up to snuff. They really haven't been all year. Not even against Pittsburgh. Something's wrong.
Seattle lost half their defense and their starting quarterback and only lost by eight points, of which seven were in the last two minutes. Give them Hasselback and they would have had this game. Give them Tatupu and Trufant and they dominate. It wasn't pretty, and I don't mean the Orlando Thunder knock-off jersey.
Enter the Detroit Lions. They have a new uniform, a new Bubbles, and a new attitude to match those fangs. They have a division matchup against a visually vulnerable team. The Lions have Lovie's attention.
NFL Yardage rankings have the Lions at No. 8 passing, No. 5 rushing, No. 6 overall offense at 394 yards a game. What? No. 4 passing, No. 22 rushing, No. 7 overall defense at 302 yards a game.
The Bears, comparatively, are at No. 14 passing, No. 17 rushing, No. 15 overall at 327 yards a game, and No. 13 passing, No. 19 rushing, No. 12 overall defense at 323 yards a game.
Okay, yardage doesn't mean much, but it must to some if they keep using that as the team ranking rather than points. Why are the Lions looking so good here but so bad on the scoreboard? Turnovers and field position.
The Lions lost to the Vikings by 14 points, namely the 14 points scored off Detroit turnovers in their own zone. New Orleans had the ball in decent field position (NO 40 or better) six times. Four of those six ended in touchdowns, one in a blocked field goal and one ended the game. 28 points off good field position with 4-6 conversion; 17 points otherwise with 3-6 converson.
The Bears don't have the offensive capability of the Vikings or the Saints. Their defense is top notch, but so was Minnesota's.
I'm not guaranteeing a win, but if Chicago doesn't step up their game from the exhibition matchup against Seattle, Detroit's going to steal a road division win. We're trying to forget the 2008 Lions, but they also had a shot against the Bears in Soldier field. The '09 Lions are better, are the '09 Bears?
Okay, so maybe the Lions have a chance against Chicago. That doesn't mean they'll make it to the playoffs.
Again, I'm not guaranteeing anything. I'm saying that this Lions team has earned the right to be an NFL franchise once again. I think they've very much "Restored the Roar". We'll see how much of that's Kool-Aid at the end of the season.
Everyone knows what a brutal schedule Detroit has to start the season. Leading up to the bye week, the only team with a 2008 record under .500 was the Green Bay Packers. Even the Redskins were a .500 team.
I've gone over Chicago already. What about Pittsburgh? Are you saying they have a chance against the reigning Super Bowl champs? Actually, I do. It's a slim one, but right now, I could convince you that Pittsburgh could come out of Ford Field with an "L".
Pittsburgh's playing sloppy right now. Much similar to Chicago. They start with a defensive win against the Titans on opening night. The two teams put up a total of 20 points in regulation. We really thought that was expected. They looked about right.
Until they played someone else. Tennessee moves on to open the door to 34 Houston Texan points the following week and 24 against the Jets. Something's wrong with their defense. Maybe it's the Schwartz.
The Steelers look almost as bad. A team that prides itself on its defense. In the past, if you had a 4th quarter deficit against the Steelers, it was like facing Mariano Rivera in the 9th inning down by three. Forget about it. The Steelers have shown their steel for the last forever and they don't give up the lead. They pound the ball and run out the clock and stuff your passer and win 13-0. They don't give up 10 fourth quarter points to lose 17-13, and they certainly don't give up 14 fourth quarter points in Ohio.
Hmm, something's wrong with the Steelers. If this continues, you could have upset special No. 2 for the growing Lion cubs.
Next is Green Bay. In Green Bay. It's cold and we're losing. 'Nuff said. Wait, it's not in December? Wait, Favre's not here? Wait, we're not fighting a historical losing streak? Wait, Green Bay let the Rams stay in the game UNTIL THE 4TH QUARTER? Yep, they led by nine points at the half, six at the end of the third quarter. Then they realized what they were doing and turned it on. Wait, they lost in Green Bay? When does that happen? Green Bay's running game is suspect, and Rogers is good, but not great. Their defense is still adjusting, apparently. If they are still playing this bad, they may see the Honolulu Blue get on the ferry with a Win.
St. Louis. They should be okay with this matchup. That is, unless the Rams learn that they can throw the ball. Detroit seems to be doing well against the run (Yes, they gave up lots to the Saints, but it can be explained). St. Louis can't pass well. I think Detroit should handle this easily and send the Rams on their own collision course with the Buccaneer record (do you think Spurrier and Company will celebrate with champagne?). 0-16 and 0-26 all rolled up into one. The 2008 Lions will be a thing of the past. By the way, it's very possible.
Seattle? Three starting defenders on IR. Hasselbeck should be back, but will he be 100 percent? He's really not doing that great this year. It's on the road, but it's winnable.
At Minnesota? We know we can play them tough. If we can repeat our performance in Game Two by holding AP and Favre to minimal performances, we can take this game. It's the mistakes that will kill us. I'm teetering on the maybe here, but there's more than a 5% chance, I'd say.
Cleveland. I'm trying to go to that game. Should be good seats available. My father-in-law's a Browns fan. I'll take him anyway. At least he likes the Lions.
Home vs. Green Bay. See the previous Green Bay game. We might win our first Thanksgiving Classic in six years when we beat...the Green Bay Packers. (Even if they still had Favre.)
At Cincinnati. This will be tough. I can see it being tougher than the Steelers. The passing attack will be what kills us. If we can stop it, wow a road win.
At Baltimore. No shot. But we'll see. A lot can happen in two months.
Arizona. We'll probably lose this one, as Arizona can chuck the ball with the best of them. However, their defense doesn't look as good as the Saints, so we may have a chance.
At San Francisco. Frank Gore should be back. But San Francisco's passing reeks. What happens when the Lions face a running team that can't pass? See Washington and the first half of the Minnesota game. If their defense steps up, we'll lose. If they give holes, this one goes to the Lions.
Finally, home against Chicago. Chicago should have their act together by now. If they don't, expect a packed Ford Field to give them nightmares.
This is what I think. Now before you say "Wait, you just gave them 13 wins", just remember I'm pointing out the possibilities of Detroit winning. I'm showing 12 additional teams that have issues that Detroit can exploit to win games.
Before the season, I predicted seven wins for the Lions: vs. MIN (L), vs. WAS (W), vs. STL, vs. CLE, vs. GB, at CIN, and vs. ARI. That was then. That was before Pittsburgh, whom I had winning their first 10 games right until their battle in Baltimore, lost two straight. That was before Seattle, whom I had winning the division, lost half their defense and starting quarterback and still keeps Chicago close. That was before the Saints repeated their 40+ point performance against a touted defense.
I've lost the Minnesota pick, but I'm expecting one vs. Chicago. I'm adding Seattle and San Francisco. Yes folks, nine wins. I'm serving Playoff-flavored Kool-Aid. Wanna take a swig?