Dennis Green’s “The Bears are who we thought they were!” is no doubt one of the best press conferences meltdowns in professional football history. Right up there with Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?!?” and Herm Edward’s “You play to win the game!”.
Don’t believe me, check all them (and more) remixed in spectacular fashion (an oldie but a goodie).
Anyway, Green’s words shine especially true when it comes to the 2011 Detroit Lions. The Lions rounded out 2010 on a hot streak which carried over to 2011, winning 9 consecutive games. However, since their 5-0 start the Lions have gone only 2-4 as the schedule toughened up immensely. Going into the season, most realistic prognostications had the team finishing with 7 to 9 wins and remaining competitive but ultimately lacking the experience and depth to compete with the elite teams. They would beat the bad teams and flip a coin when they play other good (not great teams). That’s what they are. They beat the Bucs, Chiefs, Vikings and Panthers who all look dreadful. Lost to the 49ers and Packers who look elite. They’ve went 3-2 against the playoff contending Bears (twice), Cowboys, Falcons and Broncos.
The problem with this year’s team is that they got off to the 5-0 start where they faced three of those bad teams and beat two of their peers in terms of talent. We all got spoiled and were beginning to believe that they were an elite team. They’re not…leading to the Dennis Green reference. The Lions are right where we thought (hoped?) they’d be. Slightly above average. Where the front loaded schedule was kind in supplying us with hope, it was cruel in that the Lions descension to mediocrity seems like a collapse. It’s not, but the season has been an immense tease for a fan base that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in over a decade. Where the postseason seemed inevitable at 5-0, it’s far from a certainty now.
When Jim Schwartz took over we knew the Lions would be dreadful in 2009. We thought they’d be better, but still pretty bad, in 2010 and were hoping for playoff contention by 2011. So far it’s all followed suit. If they fail to make the playoffs this season, it’s going to be tough to accept, but it shouldn’t derail from the fact that this is an improving, young team built for the long haul. With the Vikings legitimately terrible, the NFC West and AFC South on the schedule next year and a possibility that they’ll finish 3rd in the NFC North this season, the schedule will soften considerably in 2012 and the Lions will “out-talent” a ton of opponents next year. The Lions are looking at schedule including the Rams, Seahawks, Cardinals, Titans, Jaguars, Colts, Vikings (twice), and possibly the Redskins and Buccaneers on their 2012 schedule. Things change (i.e. Peyton Manning might be back), but as of right now all teams firmly in that lower talent tier I mentioned….all games the Lions should have a good chance of winning. Despite the fact I believe they get blown out Sunday, I still think the Lions have a playoff run in them this year with the Vikings and Chargers clearly worse than them and the Raiders who may be on par with them. Three more wins might do it with the Giants in a free fall and the Bears without Jay Cutler.
I want to see the Lions in the playoffs more than anything. This season reminds me of the Tigers in 2006. Absent from the playoffs for nearly 20 years, they started hot and stumbled all the way down the stretch…limping into the playoffs. More than anything, I just wanted them to be a part of playoffs again. Legitimate among their peers. Everyday down the stretch I analyzed how they’d have to perform the rest of the way to get to that magic number…I find myself doing the same with the Lions again. It happened that year for the Tigers, and they have been in contention, for the most part, ever since. The Lions might end up just on the outside looking in this year, but regardless we’re not going to have to wait much longer for their return to the postseason.
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