I'm sitting around with nothing to do, so my mind naturally turns to the Lions. Not sure what that says about me.
Fortunately this affliction has a large support group.
Anyways, I'm sitting here thinking what if Stafford takes the next step this year?
It happens all the time. Some QBs who made the Pro Bowl in their second year include Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb. It took Montana three years, but he had only eight starts going into that third season so I'm going to count him too.
Even John Elway and Troy Aikman had huge leaps in their games by the second year.
A quick rundown of those six QBs I mentioned shows that in their second year of starting, five of them made the playoffs. For three of those teams, it had been a while since that happened.
Most importantly, they turned a collective 29 and 67 record around into 67 and 29 in their 2nd year starting. Nice.
I would take an average 11 and 5 season and the playoffs this year.
So let's just suppose Stafford fits in that group. The question becomes, "have the Lions done enough around him?"
How well do the moves the Lions have made over the last two years match what those teams did with their rookie QB?
I am dropping the Broncos from the mix because they were a good team before Elway got there. We don't need things like having a defense in place mucking up the comparisons.
Montana and Aikmen are also different cases, as both made the playoffs in their third year. However, I will argue that it was a different NFL back then. It took a little longer due to the differences with free agency rules back then.
I considered counting the first two years as one but then why bother. We have three pretty good test cases now with Manning, Bledsoe and McNabb.
All three were taking over teams that were bad— maybe not Lions bad, but still pretty bad. Actually New England might have been worse, the Patriots had nine wins in the three years before Parcells came in while the Lions had ten wins leading into Schwartz.
Looking at the way they built their teams, there are some similarities.
For one, they gutted everything. Within two years, all three new regimes had changed 48 of the 66 starting positions. That's an average of six remaining starters.
The Lions have kept Calvin, Backus, Raiola and Peterman. Guess we should count Cherilous, maybe Bullocks or K Smith. That sounds about right, five or six tops.
They developed players already on the squad. From players like Ben Coates and Todd Collins to Marcus Pollard or Jerimiah Trottier, the new coaching staffs found a couple of good players with a little work.
That's good news for Cliff Avril and the handful of Millen draftees left. Most likely a player or two will emerge to be solid.
Not as many free agent signings as you might think.
Indy and Philly were the most conservative with only four starters; while Parcells went crazy in New England and had seven. Though most of Parcells free agents didn't stick around long.
The Lions have added Sims, Burleson, Heller, Williams, KVB, Peterson and Houston through trades. That's seven, and I did say the Patriots were the most similar in lack of talent.
Two of the teams went with a defensive line player with their top pick the next year after taking the QB. It was the Patriots with McGinest and Philly with Corey Simon, while the Colts of course went with a RB named Edgerrin James. Sounds like the Colts don't it.
They all built through the draft, but maybe not as much as you would expect.
The Patriots hit a home run in the Bledsoe draft with four other starters and a nice compliment of role players. What you might not know is the next year, other than McGinest, the draft only netted a 6th round OT for four years and a two year punter.
Including Manning, the Colts only had three long term starters and two four year starters out of those two drafts. Oh, and a punter.
The Eagles only added three players who started four years to McNabb. No punter but they did add a handful of role players.
Add that up and it wouldn't take much more for the Lions' last two drafts to at least equal what they did. It looks like it might be six starters now from the last years' class alone.
I have got to say there isn't a lot of difference between what Schwartz and Mayhew have done and what the Patriots, Colts and Eagles did in the same situation.
The schedule really doesn't make any difference, the Colts had nine teams on their schedule who made the playoffs the year before. The Lions have seven playoff teams to deal with on their schedule.
Teams go from bad to good and good to bad in the blink of an eye or a tear of the hamstring. Something clicks and all of a sudden no team looks too good to beat.
That's what makes predicting a win total so hard. It's not who will they add yet or who will be injured, while those things do matter it's more about when will they get that spark?
The Colts started out 2 and 2 then went on a eleven game winning streak while the Cowboys struggled through ten games with a 3 and 7 record before they put together a four game winning streak near the end.
If the Lions hit their stride within four games double digit wins and the playoffs are possible. They take half the season or more and they finish around six to eight wins.
Does it matter?
Depends on your goal. If the goal is the Super Bowl than no, making the playoffs in their second year makes little difference. Dallas didn't make the playoffs until the third year and won the Super Bowl in year four; while the Colts took nine years to do it.
Would you give up the playoffs on 2010 if it meant the Lions made the Super Bowl five years faster?
Let's just count the nay votes, it will go faster.
2010 is still a developmental year for the Lions. It's more about building that Stafford to Calvin connection and seeing some development out of some of these borderline players.
The Lions have put a lot of young defensive players in with a couple of hand picked veterans and how far those prospects advance is worth more than a 500 record in the long run.
So that's what I am predicting.
Stafford and Calvin become deadly. Actually, Stafford and anyone can hurt you but with Calvin it's lethal.
The offensive line continues to improve, with or without Cherilous.
Best brings a little excitement to the running game, should make a dynamic duo when K Smith is 100 percent.
Pettigrew works his way back to what they expected and the whole offense clicks a little better with the two TE offense working on all cylinders.
Suh plays well, flashes some greatness but exposes some of his inexperience. Looks like a leader though.
Levy, Hill and Delmas show improvement, great rookie years but a long ways to go yet.
A couple of players like Avril or Houston emerge as legitimate starters on the defense. I don't expect a top ten defense but they need to keep finding and developing good players.
In the long run those are the questions we need answered in 2010.