Expectations are way down for the 2013 edition of the Detroit Lions. Most of the media have ignored the Lions and figure they’ll place third or last in the NFC North. Fans are seemingly taking a wait and see attitude. We know that they could be very good, as we saw in the first half of 2011, or be the “same old Lions” of late ’11 through last season.
I am also on the fence. While they have talent, they could easily go south, especially with the amount of very good teams in the NFC alone. Yet a gut feeling makes me feel this will be a bounce-back year for Detroit.
Many times the NFL has young teams on the rise who show a season of promise and take a step back. The New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, and New Orleans Saints all had breakout years in the early 2000′s and took a step back for a year or two. Each team subsequently reached a Super Bowl (and in the cases of the Patriots and Saints–won it all).
From a Detroit standpoint, there are some parallels between the Lions and the rise of the Tigers.
After years of terrible baseball, the Tigers came out of nowhere in 2006. They had the best record in baseball for much of the season before skidding to the playoffs. The Lions also had a terrific first half in their breakout year of 2011, but stumbled to the finish. Of course the Tigers got hot in the 2006 playoffs and went all the way to the World Series, while the Lions got drilled by the Saints in the wild-card round. Despite this, the Tigers have shown, if you get there (there being the postseason), you have as good a shot as anyone to get to the final round.
Two years later the Tigers made a trade to bring in Dontrelle Willis to bolster their rotation–and also picked up some other guy which was clearly an add-on to that trade. I think his name was Miguel Cabrera, or something like that. Nearly everyone picked the Tigers to win the World Series in 2008 and they finished in last place. The Lions went into 2012 with tremendous expectations, and finished in last place.
The Tigers learned from their 2008 foibles and nearly made the playoffs in 2009 (being edged out in the tie-breaking 163rd game). They won the division in 2011, after a long drought without a division title (just like the Lions), and repeated in 2012. Despite having an uneven beginning to this season, the Tigers are currently in first place, and most expect them to three-peat as AL Central champs.
One of the keys to the Tigers’ resurgence in 2006 was Rookie of the Year, Justin Verlander. In his first two full seasons, he won 17 and 18 games respectively, throwing a no-hitter in 2007. The next year, he took a step back, winning only 11 games against 17 defeats. It didn’t take Verlander long to rebound, winning 19, 18, 24, and 17 games over the next four seasons.
Matthew Stafford had an incredible season in 2011, becoming just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards. Of course nationally this stat was marginalized because the Lions lacked a running game and always had to throw the ball. Additionally, Stafford had Calvin Johnson, which minimized his rising star status. Matthew, ever the national whipping boy, fell just short of the 5,000-yard mark (4,967) last year, but that stat was also marginalized by the notion that the Lions were behind so much that they had to throw the ball all the time.
Perhaps the most troubling stat of Stafford’s 2012 season was his touchdowns being cut in half, from 41 to 20. That is a legitimate concern, but no reason to completely write him off as a flash in the pan just yet. JV learned from his regression early in his career and has become the best pitcher in baseball. There is no reason to believe Matthew can’t do the same thing.
So while no one can say for certain which Lions team we will see in 2013, there are positive trends to show both the franchise and its star player can rebound and be better than ever.