While the 49ers added another chapter to the lore of quick turnarounds in the NFL, the Detroit Lions can only watch and hope that their time is almost due.
After dismantling the Green Bay Packers 37-20 in the NFC Championship game, the San Francisco 49ers are just the latest example of a worst-to-first success story in the NFL. Teams like the Detroit Lions can take heart knowing that each season truly is a fresh start.
Bottom-dwellers one year rising into dominance the next happens frequently enough in today’s NFL that it should hardly surprise people anymore. It doesn’t require a blockbuster trade, free agency signing, or preseason hype to do it either. Most of the time, it happens without any of those things.
When the Kurt Warner-led Rams jumped from 4-12 to Super Bowl champions after the 1999 season, it was hailed as one of the game’s great miracles. Flash forward two decades, and this sort of thing has happened so often that the 49ers bulldozing their way to Super Bowl LIV has a bit of a ho-hum quality to it.
Since 1999, the Rams, Patriots, and Eagles have all won a Super Bowl after a last place divisional finish the year before. The ’04 Chargers, ’08 Dolphins, ’12 Colts, ‘ and ’16 Cowboys (I’m sure there are others that I’m missing) all have their own examples of massive win improvements directly following last place seasons. San Francisco being a game away from the Lombardi trophy after sitting at 4-12 a year ago is closer to the rule than the exception these days.
With its emphasis on ensuring parity (nearly half of all games are decided by a touchdown or less), the league itself seems designed to ensure that last place teams one year will be in a great position to improve the next. Teams are basically taking turns being the unexpected rags-to-riches story at this point. So is there any reason to believe that 2020 could finally be the Lions’ turn?