Are the Detroit Lions Laying Groundwork To Become a Dynasty?
Every decade needs a dynasty.
In the 1960s, Vince Lombardi's Packers ruled the NFL before and after the integration with the AFL in a game we've come to know as the Super Bowl. The 1970s sported the Pittsburgh Steelers, the winners of four Super Bowls rings and arguably the greatest dynasty ever.
Joe Montana led the San Francisco 49ers to four of their five championships throughout the 1980s and 1990s, being followed by Steve Young, who kept the dynasty alive during their fifth championship run. Meanwhile, Troy Aikman's Dallas Cowboys ruled the 1990s with three championships of their own.
While we all know the reigning dynasty, the New England Patriots, still stand foremost in our memory of dynasties with three championships in the 2000s, who stands to become the greatest team of the 2010s?
While the front-runner is the Green Bay Packers, I see something special brewing with another NFC North team.
The Detroit Lions.
Over the past few years, the Lions have built their roster the way I build a franchise in Madden. With the talent they have accumulated the past few seasons, it almost seems like they're cheating.
So, let me be the first to say it. Let me be the first to step out on the limb. I've been afraid before, but I'm fairly confident we can all look back in 10 years and say that there was some modicum of truth in what I'm saying.
The Detroit Lions are going to win multiple Super Bowls in this decade, and very possibly be thought of as a dynasty.
While most of you are screaming through your computer monitors for me to promptly find my medication, I feel confident in this prediction.
Does it really matter what the history of this franchise is? Does 50 years of losing mean that they can't rise to become the newest edition of Montana's 49ers or Aikman's Cowboys?
Remember where those franchises were before they got their star quarterbacks. They were laughable. The 49ers struggled through a decade of demise. After playoff appearances in 1971 and 1972, the 49ers failed to see postseason light for nine years.
Enter Bill Walsh.
Walsh's West Coast offense was the perfect fit for a third-round quarterback from Notre Dame named Joe Montana. Montana was the ultimate commander for Walsh's offense, and became the cornerstone on which the 49ers 1980s dynasty was built.
And then there are the Cowboys. Everyone remembers the Dallas teams that won Super Bowls in 1992, 1993 and 1994, but where were they before that dominating stretch?
The Cowboys were 3-13 in 1988 before firing Tom Landry, hiring Jimmy Johnson in 1989, and starting Johnson's tenure with a 1-15 record. Cowboys fans were afraid that Jerry Jones' purchase of the team was only leading Dallas further into obscurity. Was America's Team finally dead?
The Cowboys, with three consecutive first-round selections, drafted Michael Irvin (1988), Troy Aikman (1989) and Emmitt Smith (1990).
The elderly Cowboys had transformed into a team full of young stars, and reached the playoffs in 1991 before ultimately beginning their Super Bowl run in 1992.
So, what is my point with the historical references?
The Detroit Lions look a lot like the Dallas Cowboys. And 2011 looks a lot like 1992.
You remember those 1991 Cowboys, the ones that finally made the playoffs before losing to, well, the Lions. While the Lions went on to lose to Washington in those same playoffs, their meter turned sharply southward while the Cowboys continued to build.
Take notice, because the Lions aren't building. They are built.
I first turned my head as Detroit raced through the latter part of their 2010 schedule, finishing 6-10 and beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers along the way. At the time, I saw the nucleus the Lions had built. Such a young team only needed to stay healthy and to mature before their talent became apparent, and created a contender in 2011.
If you're still not buying, Jay Cutler is.
What I saw on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears, where the Lions moved to 5-0 for the first time since the birth of Christ (I think that's historically correct), was a team completely dominant.
There is simply nothing the Lions don't do well. Until this week, there was question whether they could run the football against a solid run defense when it mattered most. Jahvid Best silenced that by averaging about six miles per-carry against the Bears, while the Lions defense harassed Jay Cutler and company.
So, what do we look for in the Lions that makes us think they could be the team of this decade on the rise? How do you spot legend before it becomes legendary.
Look at the nucleus.
Like the Cowboys of the early '90s, the Lions have an offensive core group of players that are simply dominant. Matthew Stafford is, week-by-week, asserting himself as a top-five quarterback while Calvin Johnson has always been a top-five receiver. Maybe even out of the womb. Johnson could've gone 70 yards on a post pattern in the NFL by the age of 12. I guarantee it.
Jahvid Best, while injured much of his 2010 rookie season, is rounding into excellent shape as a multi-dimensional running back that, once in the open field, can't be caught by a cheetah.
How many games will the Lions win in 2011?
Just ask the Bears defense.
Defensively, the Lions may even be more impressive. Ndamukong Suh is arguably the NFL's defensive MVP in only his second year, and Nick Fairley has joined him to create the most fearsome defensive tackle tandem in the league. With Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch at end, the Lions defensive line is virtually unblockable.
Just ask Jay Cutler.
The rest of the Lions defense benefits from the pressure applied by their defensive front, but sport their own playmaking stars in Stephen Tulloch and Louis Delmas, who is steadily progressing.
The only vulnerable spot for this team is its secondary, which is threatened less often because most quarterbacks can't finish a five-step drop.
What makes these Lions even better is that, with the exception of Vanden Bosch, all of these starts are very, very young.
Think of the last three drafts for the Lions. Three first-round picks include Jahvid Best, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford. Calvin Johnson is only slightly older than Stafford, and they added Titus Young to complement Johnson in the 2011 draft.
So, who is the Lions' "Jimmy Johnson?" Jim Schwartz, baby.
Schwartz was an excellent defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans during a period where defense carried an inconsistent offensive to prominence and relevance. Schwartz's defenses regularly finished in the league's top five, and he seems to have carried that hard-nose nature to the Big D.
That's right, I even called them the "Big D."
Schwartz is only 45 years old, and the team is entirely his. They buy into what he is saying, and what he's saying seems to work.
The moral of this story, ladies and gentlemen, is to buy the hype. If hype on the Lions were a stock, I'm selling the house and buying big.
Detroit has a serious competitor in its own division in the Green Bay Packers, but there is just something about the Lions that makes me want to watch every play of every game, and take notes so I can remember where I was when I saw them rise.
The Packers have faults, many of them defensively. Also, Green Bay's secondary is getting older by the second, and the offensive line has a serious history with injuries.
No matter where the Lions' stock goes from here, I'm buying. I remember being a ten-year-old child watching the Cowboys make their mark, and Detroit gives me that same feeling. There was a romanticism about the 1990s Cowboys that I now feel, that I believe I will one day feel about the 2010s Lions. And what city deserves it more?
Detroit, the battered, broken city that is long past its hey-day. Detroit, the burned-out buildings, reminiscent of a time that once was. Haunted equally by names like Bobby Layne as much as names like Henry Ford, they just want a taste of the good life.
For God's sake, just a little bit of relief.
We all want that for them, don't we? Don't they deserve a team like this? Karma has its way of making things right, and everything is right, indeed, inside of Ford Field.
So, while I may be ahead of myself, I'm not ashamed in the least. This team is for real, with a quarterback that is for real and a nucleus that is going to be around for a long, long time. Lions fans, your time of redemption is not near.
It is here.
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