Detroit Lions Start 5-0, Are They Like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays?

Alex Giobbi@@alexgiobbiAnalyst IOctober 11, 2011

Matthew Stafford could lead a resurgent Detroit Lions team into the playoffs, much like Evan Longoria did with the 2008 Rays.
Matthew Stafford could lead a resurgent Detroit Lions team into the playoffs, much like Evan Longoria did with the 2008 Rays.Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions just won their fifth game of the season, a 24-13 dogfight against the Chicago Bears. Normally, any news story that talks about the Detroit Lions winning their fifth game would be published in mid- to late December, or perhaps not at all.

But amazingly, for the first time in more than a half century, the Lions have started a season 5-0.

As the title humorously suggests, it seems that the Lions are playing like the famous 2008 Tampa Bay Rays' World Series team, with a young, yet strong core, a relaxed coach and a decade of futility behind them.

Granted, the NFL season is still young, and the Lions haven't even faced the toughest competition yet, but the last time the they started the season with five straight wins was back in 1956. 

Back in 2008, the Lions were a joke. They lost every game in the regular season, went through a carousel of quarterbacks, among them a shell of a former Pro Bowler Daunte Culpepper  and drew comparisons to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their quest for ultimate futility.

The Tampa Bay Rays of '08 on the other hand, were the top team in the American League. They won a total of 97 games—a team record—and advanced to the postseason for the first time in team history.

After soundly beating both the Chicago White Sox and the Boston Red Sox, the Rays made it to their first World Series in team history, where they lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Tampa Bay had to endure a decade of futility and an identity overhaul before its first ever postseason appearance. The Rays had to stockpile of top talent from amateur baseball in order to develop the potent core that led them to their first pennant.

Could the Lions do the same? Could this be the year where Detroit becomes king?

Here are the similarities between the 2008 Rays and the 2011 Lions.

1. Both endured at least a decade of futility. The Rays' best season before their identity change was in 2004, when they finished in fourth place, ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. Detroit, who hasn't made the playoffs since 1999, has had to go longer, with its best season happening in 2007 when it finished 8-8.

Tampa Bay also had to go through two straight seasons of being the worst team in baseball—in 2006-07—before their magical '08 campaign. Detroit on the other hand, had to go through two consecutive seasons with less than four wins before an inspiring 6-10 season last year. Among the highlights of that season was a four-game winning streak to close out the season.

2. Both were centered around a young, but powerful core. The 2008 Rays had emerging star players like Evan Longoria, who won the 2008 Rookie of the Year Award in the American League, Matt Garza, who emerged as a solid starter after being acquired from the Minnesota Twins, and Dioner Navarro, who developed the live arms in the Rays' rebuilt pitching staff.

The 2011 Detroit Lions, on the other hand, are led by emerging stars like Matthew Stafford, the team's quarterback and former No. 1 draft pick, Ndamukong Suh, the presumptive captain of the resurgent defense and Calvin Johnson, the team's flashy wide receiver. Each player has yet to reach their prime, and when they do, they will lead a Lions' team that will be a force in the NFC.

3. They have charismatic coaches who are firm, but fair to their players. Joe Maddon was a minor league manager who learned to identify with his subordinates when he came to Tampa Bay in 2006. He sympathized with his players, unlike previous manager Lou Pinella, who was a tyrant. Maddon encouraged his team to have fun, which led to a more relaxed feel in the clubhouse—which also contributed to their first World Series appearance.

Jim Schwartz is able to control his players, but not to the point where he is a helicopter coach. His attitude has led to an improvement in the team, who before Schwartz, were led by Rod Marinelli, a man who seemed to project the wrong image of a coach—especially when he asked for "a few good men who cared about playing football." That, and the 0-16 campaign were the kiss of death for Marinelli, and led to Schwartz's hiring.

4. They both endured an identity change. The Rays had to undergo a complete renovation before they started winning. First, the name was shortened from Devil Rays to Rays, then the color scheme was changed from Green and black with purple, to shades of blue and white with yellow. 

The Lions just made a logo and uniform change. Bubbles the lion (the logo) was drawn to look more fierce. The words were changed from a 49ers' style to a more ragged style that just looked better. The uniforms were also updated, with the numbers changing from the basic block font to an edgier style. The Lions now look more fierce with their change.

The question remains: Are the 2011 Lions the football version of the 2008 Rays?

If they don't let the success get to their head, then there is a chance that they can be like the Rays. In order to do that, the defense must remain solid, Matt Stafford cannot get hurt and Calvin Johnson must have a great season.

Basically, it's up to the players to make this team a success. There's still two thirds of a season left to play, and a lot can happen in that time.