Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wannstache's Sleeper: Detroit Lions

I’ll say this right off the bat: this pick could make me look like an idiot. I am putting my faith in a team assembled by Matt Millen and quarterbacked by Jon Kitna. But I’ll go ahead and make this prediction anyways:

The Detroit Lions will win the NFC North division this year

The offense, in my opinion, could be one of the best in the NFL with the arrival of Calvin Johnson. Around draft time, pundits were saying the Lions should avoid taking Johnson because they had drafted Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams in three of the previous four years. To his credit, though, Millen didn’t listen to such nonsense and pulled the trigger on drafting Johnson. Now, the Lions are capable of fielding a 3 WR set that includes Williams, Johnson, and Mike Furrey, who by the way was 2nd in the NFL last year in receptions, with 98. Shaun McDonald serves as a fully capable #4 guy. I’m sure opposing defenses will have fun with those receivers. Kitna should be much more comfortable this season, his 2nd under Mike Martz’s offense. Martz was able to take unknowns like Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger and mold them into top-notch quarterbacks. I expect him to do the same with Kitna, and while the former Bengals QB has shown a propensity to make some stupid decisions from time to time, I believe he’ll be pretty good in this offense.

At least early on in the season, the bulk of the carries will be given to former Broncos RB Tatum Bell, who was acquired in the Dre Bly deal. Bell is a great fit for this offense, a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield ala Marshall Faulk. Should injured RB Kevin Jones return sometime during the season, it will only help as it will give the Lions two options to pound away at the defense. The offensive line could be an issue, but it was bolstered by the acquisition of George Foster, who also was acquired via the Bly deal. In addition, guard Damien Woody, who struggled last year because of weight problems, has dropped almost 50 pounds, which could help him regain his Pro Bowl form.

Pat talked about the two “measts” in Jacksonville, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. It should be noted that the Lions have a pair of upper echelon defensive tackles as well in Shaun Rogers and Cory Redding. The Lions also snagged DeWayne White away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he should add a nice pass rushing presence to the defense. The two outside linebackers, Ernie Sims and Boss Bailey, are quick and active and fit the cover 2 defense of head coach Rod Marinelli perfectly. Where it could fall apart is the secondary, where the starting cornerbacks (Fernando Bryant and Stanley Wilson) are weak and the starting free safety (Daniel Bullocks) has just been lost for the season to a torn ACL. But, at least in terms of the cornerbacks, they don’t need to be spectacular in a cover 2 defense. This is why teams like the Indianapolis Colts are able to win a championship with Nick Harper and Jason David starting at cornerback. Furthermore, their division foes aren’t exactly stocked with marquee wide receivers. So the Lions just might be able to get by here.

Finally, let’s talk about the division. The popular pick is the Bears, but I have these questions: Do you trust Rex Grossman? Can Cedric Benson carry the load all by himself, now that Thomas Jones is gone? Will Lance Briggs unhappiness with his contract affect his play during the season? Can the Bears again count on a bunch of TD’s from Devin Hester, when teams eventually figure out that the best thing to do when punting is just kick it out of bounds? What if Tommie Harris goes down again? Tank Johnson isn’t there anymore, so it’s not like there is tremendous depth at the DT position. The Bears have more questions than people think. And then look at past Super Bowl losers. Save for the Seahawks last season, five of the six previous Super Bowl losers didn’t make the playoffs the following season. There’s something to that. The rest of the division is mediocre. The Packers could surprise, but they don’t have the running game to take the pressure off of Brett Favre, and that means lots and lots of turnovers. The Vikings stink, and in my opinion will be one of the worst teams in the league.

Every year, there is that surprise team that rises up from nowhere and makes the playoffs. Last year, it was the New Orleans Saints. I’m putting my faith in the Lions to win this division. And at the end of the season, either I’ll be badgered mercilessly by my comrades here at Doubt About It if the Lions falter, or they won’t hear the end of it from me should the Lions take the division.

End of Post

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