This season is going to be huge for Detroit. Things are coming together. Many factors will impact the Lions ability to win games in 2010, but none of them more so than second-year QB Matthew Stafford.
I was writing an article about Stafford's rookie campaign that did a statistical comparison between his numbers last year with the rookie year of many other great QBs, as well as the not so great JaMarcus Russell. However, staring at statistics on profootballreference.com started to make my eyes blur, and the realization that numbers are numbers and football is football stole my motivation.
So now that we're in the dog days of summer, and the drought of football news is upon us, I thought I would indulge in some good old speculation for the future, and maybe a little fantasy.
When in college, I studied sports (as a P.E. major w/ sports studies emphasis) and learned a lot about the psychological aspect of sports. The late, great John Wooden was a topic of discussion quite often in college sports studies classes. What John Wooden brought to the world of coaching was the element binding as a team, as well as the impact that "faith and belief" has on a teams ability to perform at very high levels.
The Lions have lacked this "faith and belief" for the past several years as a team. All though solitary players may have recently displayed it (thank you very much John Kitna and Kevin Smith), the team was never on the same page as it was never the same system from one year to the next.
This year we now have Louis Delmas and Jonathan Wade proclaiming the Lions will make the playoffs. Interestingly enough, since they're two players in the most suspect area of Lions football, the secondary. As much as this may sound audacious and boastful and reminiscent of guys like Kitna and Smith calling out records and playoffs before the season. To me this says a lot more than Kitna or Smith saying "we're going to the playoffs" or "we will win 10 games."
It's the first time I can remember two defensive guys calling ahead "we will succeed" in Detroit. And rightfully so. I mean look at how bad the defense has been. I believe though that the Lions are finally starting to believe.
Not unlike Neo in the Matrix... "you are the one when you believe you are the one..." The same is true for any professional athlete. I believe (as a spectator and sports enthusiast) that if the Lions can get off to a quick start, the whole team will buy into this "belief" and it will become a self fulfilling prophecy in it's own right. Call me crazy if you like. Call me a Silver and Honolulu blue kool-aid spiker if you must. But this article is about how the Detroit Lions can (and might) just make the playoffs with a 12-4 record in 2010, just one season removed from a 2-14 record.
Week 1 will be considered a fluke against the Bears in Chicago. I'm not going to call a score here, I'm just going to say that the mess in Chicago will give the Lions their chance to start the season with the first road win in over four years. (Lions Record 1-0)
Week 2 against the Eagles will be considered basically the same because it's at home and Philly is going through a transition with Kolb at QB, among other things. The Lions will still have no respect even though they have started the season on fire (Lions Record 2-0).
Then Weeks 3-4 we will hear a lot of the "same old Lions" talk from everywhere, as they will get edged by the Packers and Vikings.. But the talk from those teams lockers (the Pack and Vikings) will be quietly talking about how the new Lions were a lot more to handle in 2010 than they once were... And in the Lions locker room, they will know they could/should have won both games and be undefeated... building confidence. (Lions Record 2-2)
Week 5 will be an almost must win, but the biggest challenge will be not playing "down to" the Rams ability and making it closer than it should be or letting them edge one up on the Lions...I have to have faith in the Lions here as they win the game they all knew they should have last year (Lions Record 3-2).
Week 6 is where the first statement game takes place. The Lions go into NYC to take on the Giants at the Meadowlands, and if they can win this game it will be the first real "coming out party" for the Detroit Lions... Suh will be coming into his own as an NFL DT by Week 6 and give the NY Giants all they can handle, and it wont be enough. Suh will take Manning to the turf two or three times and cause lots of match up problems as the Giants try to get an answer to his pressure. Matthew Stafford (and Jahvid Best) will show some guts and take the game away in the end, but Suh will have his coming out party along with the Lions in the Meadowlands (Lions Record 4-2).
Week 7 (Bye)
Week 8 Redskins at home Lions do it again in 2010 going to 5-2 on the season and suddenly they're not considered a weak franchise any more...
Week 9 vs the Jets poses a huge test.. But the running game strength of the Jets doesn't match up well against the new D-Line built to stop the run in Detroit. The Sanchez vs Stafford debate is silenced forever as Stafford wins the game with his arm (Lions are now 6-2 and perfect at home).
Week 10 Buffalo away... and the Lions are now favorites and show why as they collectively dismantle the Bills on the road. (Lions Record 7-2)
Week 11 The Cowboys edge the Lions at home in a game that includes a freak play in which a Detroit punt hits the gigantic Jumbotron and lands in the hands of an up field blocker putting the cowboys in field goal range with out moving down field. (Lions Record 7-3)
Week 12... The Lions beat the Pats 28-27 at home. (Lions Record 8-3 and undefeated at home). This may sound crazy but by now the Lions will have begun to believe the fact that they can win against any team, in any venue, making them defend the home turf with incredible vigor and intensity.
Week 13 Sweeping the Bears for the season (Lions Record 9-3, undefeated at home). I'm sorry Chicago fans but you're in for a bad season. Mike Martz paired with Jay Cutler is like adding a devils advocate to a known habitual interception throwing QB. They are going to pass like never before this year in Chicago, and to their own demise. I give the Lions secondary three to five picks on the season thanks to the Cutler and Martz pairing.
Week 14 The Lions win against the Packers at home, splitting the series. The Suh/Williams Tandem becomes a force the Packers are il-prepared to deal with thinking they had them covered after their early season meeting. (Lions Record 10-3)
Week 15 Stealing one on the road from the Bucs. (Lions Record 11-4)
Week 16 splitting with the Vikings, winning at home, and making the playoffs as either a Wild Card or NFC North champ (depending on head to heads between Vikings, Bears, and Packers). (12-4) and going undefeated at home for the first time in years.. This game will be a true test for Stafford, as well as Brett Favre as he loses his last NFL game while watching the next great NFL QB come into his own.
Sure this is just a purely speculative article, and sure the season has yet to begin. But if you're a Detroit Lion and you're reading this, know that belief is the critical component that must exist before win number one. So drink the kool-aid and be merry. When you lose, get back up, and play harder. When you win, know that it's not over until the season is over. And in the end, this (or something better) will be your season in 2010.