The new (baby)face of the NFL?
The Detroit Lions franchise has been shrouded by mediocrity for decades, but it seems that finally hope is rising from that oppressive mist. The Lions have been slowly reviving hope in Detroit ever since the signing of Martin Mayhew and his first draft where he picked Matthew Stafford first overall.
Now, coming off a four-game win streak to end the 2010 season, Detroit is finally getting its due as a rising team.
In the NFL, a new decade has begun. Along with the flood of greatest player of the 2000s debate, another important part of football lore is about to begin. It is time for a new dynasty to be born.
In the 1960s, it was the Green Bay Packers, in the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only team team to win three championships. In the 1980s, the San Francisco 49ers were the team to to beat. In the 1990s, the triplets of the Dallas Cowboys led the team to dynasty status, and finally in the post-free agency 2000s, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots claimed the first dynasty of the new millennium.
However, with a new decade comes the chance for a new team to become the preeminent franchise, and even in a league known for its parity, I still believe that a new dynasty will be born. What's more, the Lions have a great shot at being that team.
The long-term drafting approach of management is the main reason for this. Since Mayhew took control of drafting, he has taken the approach of drafting value over need and molded it into a very effective system.
Year by year, he has drafted, signed or traded for talented players in an attempt to "complete" positional groups one at a time. For example, with the drafting of Matthew Stafford and the trade for Shaun Hill prior to the 2010 season, he "completed" the quarterback position.
With the drafting of Jahvid Best in 2010 and Mikel Leshoure in 2011 he created a "thunder and lightning" combo which would seem to have "completed" the running back stable.
With the signing of Nate Burleson in 2010 and the drafting of Titus Young a few months ago, he has also "completed" the wide receiver corps. He has also finished the building of his tight end positional groups and, of course, the defensive line.
All that remains is the completion of the offensive line, which still needs a few starters, and the secondary and linebacker corps, who are just one star away from completion.
What will the Lions achieve in the next decade?
The team is also very young, with the majority of key starters under 27 years of age. This means that the Lions team we see today could play together for most of the current decade. Continuity such as this is key for building a dynasty in the NFL. All the previous ones have had it.
This is made more likely by the leadership that players like Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch are showing. Every Lions player I have heard interviewed has commented on how great it is to play on this team.
Even outsiders like Donte Stallworth have been quoted saying that they would like to move to Detroit to end their careers. After years of being a hole where careers come to die, that is music to the ears of everybody linked to the Detroit franchise.
The final key ingredient to building a dynasty is quality coaching and management, and again the Lions finally possess that. With the aforementioned Mayhew at GM, and Jim Schwartz leading a good group of coaches and coordinators, the Lions are set for success.
Especially, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan looks to be the real deal. He maintained a productive offense last year despite a porous offensive line and a rash of injuries to Stafford, Shaun Hill and Jahvid Best.
He created game plans that accentuated the strengths of the offense, and even won with the third-string quarterback and a patchwork offensive line. Imagine what he will do this year with a bevy of explosive skill players and Stafford fit and healthy.
Finally, the Lions have personnel similar to other dynasties. Like the dominant Steelers, the Lions have a fearsome defensive line that sets the tempo for the defense and features an elite defensive tackle. Although early in his career, Suh shows all the signs of becoming the next elite defensive tackle, following the path of the Steelers' Joe Greene.
Like the 49ers, the Lions have an offense built around quick passes and yards after the catch. This should limit the interceptions and incompletions thrown, and with Calvin Johnson and Titus Young who are and should be elite runners with the ball in hand, they will not lose much in total yards either.
Finally, like the Dallas Cowboys, Detroit seems to be creating a new bunch of triplets. With Megatron at wide receiver, Stafford at quarterback and the partnership of Best and Mikel Leshoure at running back, they have dominant players at every offensive skill position.
In conclusion, despite the quality of other young teams in the league like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, I think that the Lions should be among the favourites to dominate the upcoming decade.
They have a talented young side that is backed up by good decision-makers in the front office and a good group of coaches. As an added bonus, they also seem to have some of the key features of other dynasties.
While predicting three Super Bowl's in the next 10 years after only winning six games in the last three seasons may be bold, the Lions are ascending rapidly, and should be perennial playoff contenders by at least the 2013 playoffs.