Detroit, MI. 2011 was a year that Detroit Lions fans finally had a reason to smile just a bit. After ten consecutive losing seasons, and no double-digit wins in any year since 1995, the Lions put it all together for what still has to be considered a successful campaign. They finished 10-6 and made the playoffs, although losing in the wildcard round to New Orleans. Keep in mind, it was just 3 seasons prior that they finished the 2008 season at 0-16. Throughout recent history, Detroit has added some nice pieces via tha draft, as the entire organization has been overly patient, waiting on everything to eventually pan out. The key cog running the offense, Matthew Stafford, finally stayed healthy for an entire season, and alongside superstar Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions put up some gaudy offensive numbers. Even without much of a running game to speak of, the Lions were a force and one of the best offenses in the NFL. The defense made vast improvements as well, showing their ability to harass the QB behind a stout defensive line. Head coach Jim Schwartz has the look of being the right guy for this team. He has shown an outstanding attitude of expecting to win, and instilled a new culture of attention to detail and not being okay with losing. This Detroit Lions team and its fans have everything to be excited about going forward, and this is a team that should be a factor for many years to come. However, in 2012, the Lions and their faithful following should temper their expectations just a tad. Although a few things point to the team getting better, there are some things that signal a potential decline in the win-loss column for the season ahead. With that said, here are the 7 reasons why the Detroit Lions will take a step back and miss the 2012 NFL playoffs……
1 – Expectations - Everyone saw how explosive this offense was last year, and the combo of Stafford to Megatron was jaw-dropping at times. Ndamukong Suh leads a defensive front that dominated offensive lines for much of last year as well. This Lions team became very flashy on both sides of the ball, and after making the playoffs, they now have to deal with the “E” word….Expectations. Expectations for any young team has proven to be a distraction in the past, and will be just that for Detroit this year.
2 – The health of Matthew Stafford - Stafford had a marvelous year in 2011, and showed why he was so highly touted coming out of Georgia back in 2009. He threw for over 5,000 yards, and played in all 16 games. Still just 24 years old, the sky is the limit as to what he can accomplish in this league. The truth is though, he has proven to be quite injury prone too. Before 2011, in his first two years in the NFL, Stafford missed 19 games due to injury. The shoulder problems have been a bugaboo of sorts, and one of the worst things for a young QB to have to overcome. Don’t be surprised if some sort of injury curtails his 2012 season.
3 – Lack of a consistent running game - Jahvid Best has had a tough go of it, as several concussions have put his career in doubt. Best has all the ability to be a nice back in the NFL, as he was the guy to be in the Lions backfield for years to come. Now, it’s anyones guess if he will ever make it back. With Best out the picture, Mikel Leshoure was next up, after being drafted in 2011. Leshoure missed all of last year due to injury, and will miss the first two games because of a marijuana-related suspension. Now the starter is Kevin Smith, who Detroit signed off the scrap heap last year and has had his own injury issues. Looks like Matthew Stafford will be chucking it a lot again this year.
4 – The NFC North - In my opinion, this is the best division in the NFL. It’s unfortunate, but the Detroit Lions will have to deal with Aaron Rodgers for the next decade or so. That will be no picnic. Factor in the Chicago Bears, who undoubtedly got better in the offseason, and are looking to be a force in the NFC this year. On paper, Detroit’s overall talent level is probably third best now in this tough division.
5 – The defensive backfield - This is probably the worst part of the entire Lions squad. Detroit finished 22nd against the pass in 2011, and doesn’t appear to be any better now. When you have to face Rodgers and Cutler four times a year, this is a recipe for disaster on the back-end of the defense. The lack of really good corners and safeties will prove to be what kills this defense yet again.
6 – Lack of a reliable 2nd wide receiver - Calvin Johnson is unbelievably great, and the best wideout in the NFL, bar none. Even when he is double-teamed, he still makes plays. Really good teams in the NFL need a second and third option in the passing game to be truly successful, and Detroit is iffy in that regard. They have Nate Burleson and Titus Young, but both guys only had decent 2011 seasons. Rookie Ryan Broyles is now in the fold, and could be very productive down the road. With Burleson aging, the Lions are really leaning on Young to breakout and be that second option for Stafford. But will he be? Sure he could be, but to depend on that happening would be naive.
7 – The entire NFC - Not only is the NFC North very tough, but the NFC as a whole looks to be loaded. When you have teams that have proven they should be in the hunt this year, like Green Bay, San Francisco, and Atlanta, and plenty of others who could also easily be playoff bound, there isn’t much room for error in 2012. Although the Detroit Lions are on the right track, they are going to have a tough time making the post-season this year. This could definitely be a situation where the team as a whole does get better and matures, but it doesn’t show up in the win-loss column. The Lions will take a slight step back record-wise this season, finish at 9-7, and not make the playoffs. It will prove to be a very valuable season though in the long run, and one that ultimately makes them better years from now.
Denver Sports by J Simp