The Detroit Lions have been the face of futility in the NFL for quite some time. Two seasons ago, they set a record that no team would ever want to have, becoming the first team to go winless in a 16-game season.
And yet fans have stuck by the Lions year after year with the hope that they could get it turned around. Well, they are now on the brink of doing just that. What I bring you here are five reasons why the Detroit Lions can, and hopefully will, win the NFC North division title in the 2011 season.
The Lions have gotten better steadily over the past two seasons. In all likelihood, they will finish this season with at least four wins, and possibly more.
While that may not be much to cheer about to some, when put in perspective, it's a pretty big deal. What it means is the Lions will have doubled their win total from the year before. Any time a team can win twice as many games as they did the previous season, that's something to be excited about, right?
Not only that, but they've been competitive in almost every game they've played. While they used to get blown out on a weekly basis by every team in the league, the Lions are keeping the score close, losing five games by a grand total of 14 points.
The Lions have the 11th-ranked passing offense in the NFL and the 27th ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
And that is without Matt Stafford.
If Stafford can stay healthy next season, the Lions will be an explosive offensive unit. They have shown signs of that explosiveness all season with backup quarterbacks.
The two elements the Lions should focus on in the forthcoming NFL draft should be offensive line and the secondary. The defense is something that has plagued this team for a while now, but it's getting better. The Lions are also scoring over 21 points per game, which is 17th in the league, again without Matt Stafford.
If they can improve the offensive line enough to really get the run game going, that will open up the passing game for Stafford. And that will equal more wins.
The Minnesota Vikings have fallen well short of expectations heading into this season. It seems that they are heading into a period of rebuilding, with questions lingering about both quarterback and head coach.
The Lions have a chance to beat them in week 17, and show that it's someone else's turn to sleep in the basement of the NFC North.
Bottom line, overall, the Vikings are on a decline, meanwhile the Lions continue to improve. If they continue to play aggressive on defense, the offense can do plenty of scoring, and the Lions, with all the right pieces in place, should be able to win one, if not both, of their games against the rival Vikings next season.
After 19 consecutive loses in division games, the Lions finally put one away against the Green Bay Packers.
Granted, the biggest reason for this was Aaron Rodgers being knocked out of the game with another concussion. But in the wake of that, the Lions dominated the game and kept the Pack out of the end zone. And let's not forget that the Lions only lost to the Packers earlier this year by a mere two points, and that was with Rodgers in the whole game.
This strategy should continue to be employed next year. The Lions need to get after the quarterback and reduce his effectiveness. The Packers' entire offense is based around Aaron Rodgers being in the game. They have no real rushing attack, and their offensive line cannot block.
If the Lions play the same way against the Packers next year, that's two more victories against division rivals.
I'm just going to go ahead and say it; the Lions had not one, but both of their games against the Bears stolen from them by bad calls.
Calvin Johnson's touchdown that wasn't quite a touchdown to the officials. Ndamukong Suh does his job and prevents Jay Cutler from gaining any more yardage resulting in a game changing penalty. Both terrible calls. What should Suh have done, let Cutler go on by?
Suh should probably be the MVP of the Lions this year.
Take away those two bad calls, and the Lions are a 5-8 team right now. And if it were not for an injury to kicker Jason Hanson, the Lions would have defeated the New York Jets, a team picked by many to go all the way to the Super Bowl this year.
If that happens, the Lions are 6-7, and fighting for the division title. Without Matt Stafford.
The point is, the Lions have shown that they can beat the Chicago Bears. Granted, the Bears may be the toughest divisional opponent the Lions face next year, but they can be beaten.
In conclusion, the Lions and their loyal fans have every right to be excited about next year, and the end of this year. The Lions have three winnable games against Tampa Bay, Miami and Minnesota, with the Dolphins probably being the toughest challenge.
Nonetheless, there have been many signs of improvement on both sides of the ball for Detroit's football squad. A good draft this off-season will be crucial, but just look at what a difference Suh has made for this team.
If Stafford and the rest of the team can more or less stay healthy next season, there's no reason the Lions can't win ten or eleven games. And in the NFC North, a 10-6 or 11-5 record will almost certainly be good enough to win the division and make the playoffs.