Detroit Lions: Why the Lions Are a Team to Watch in 2011

Eitan Katz@@EitanKatzAnalyst IIAugust 9, 2011

DETROIT - AUGUST 28: Ndamukong Suh #90 of the Detroit Lions looks on prior to playing the Cleveland Browns in a preseason game on August 28, 2010 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have finally got themselves a football team.

For years, the Lions were the butt of every joke and considered one of the worst teams in the NFL. Despite high draft picks for many seasons in a row, the Lions front office couldn't seem to get it right. Draft bust after draft bust, the Lions fell deeper and deeper into NFL obscurity.

Things have finally changed, and the Detroit Lions can finally call themselves a "team on the rise."

With a budding star in quarterback Matthew Stafford, an All Pro receiver in Calvin Johnson and a super talented running back in Jahvid Best, the Lions offense is a danger to score on any given play.

And the defense? The same defense that has unequivocally stunk for the past decade?

It is now a force to be reckoned with. Led by 2010 defensive rookie of the year, Ndamukong Suh, the Lions defense is one that will keep offensive coordinators and quarterbacks up at night. To make matters even better, Detroit stole Nick Fairley with the 13th pick in the 2011 NFL draft. The beastly defensive tackle from Auburn is going to join Suh and combine to become one of the most feared defensive tackle tandems in the NFL.

ESPN recently released their preseason Power Rankings, and they had the Lions ranked 18th, despite going 6-10 last season. Here's what they had to say:

The Lions have "sleeper" written all over them, but only if quarterback Matthew Stafford stays healthy.

I couldn't agree more. Stafford is the key, and he must stay healthy in order for the Lions to even have a chance in the loaded NFC North. The Lions have both teams from last season's NFC championship game, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, in their division, so if Stafford misses even one game, it could mean the difference between playoffs and vacation.

The first overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, Stafford has been constantly sidelined with shoulder trouble. In the three games that he did play last season, though, he gave Lions fans the glimmer of hope that they have waited so long for.

He had a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and was almost able to lead Detroit to an upset win over the Rex Ryan-led New York Jets. But alas, injuries don't just disappear. It would help if he had a better offensive line, but the bottom line is that Stafford just needs to be better at feeling the rush. If he didn't get hit so often, chances are, he wouldn't be this injury prone.

On the bright side, Detroit's defense is looking ferocious.

The linebacking group was pretty weak last season, but with the addition of tackle-machine Stephen Tulloch, they will be given a significant boost against the run. The pass defense is still a concern, but with the amount of time opposing quarterbacks have to throw the ball, it may not matter.

Overall, the Detroit Lions have all the makings of a team to watch in 2011 and beyond. With a few tweaks here, and a few additions there, the Lions could finally be considered among the NFL's elite.

The million dollar question remains...Will Matthew Stafford stay healthy?