In my Can the Lions Finish column I promised to go into why I think the Lions are a team that can not only finish games, but finish this season, the playoffs, and even the Super Bowl.
Confident the Lions were a much better team last year than their 4-12 record indicated and watching the moves they made during the offseason, I predicted they would win the Super Bowl while almost everyone else predicted they would only do slightly better than last season.
While I’m not saying the Lions are THE BEST team in the NFL, I do believe they can beat any team in the league.
Here’s a look at my preseason expectations for the Lions that allowed me to predict them as the next Super Bowl champs and the surprises that keep my confidence level in Detroit high.
Expectation #1 – A Dynamic Offense with the Addition of Reggie Bush
This first one is the obvious.
When the Detroit Lions had a healthy Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Jahvid Best on the field they were unbeaten.
Best’s ability to turn any little screen pass into a TD gave defenses more to worry about than Megatron and supplied the Lions with balance on offense. It was a huge reason Detroit was so hot at the beginning of 2011.
When Best went down with concussion problems, the Lions never had a replacement for him and while they were still able to be dangerous through the air, their offense became one-dimensional, predictable, and the team struggled.
Reggie Bush would restore this balance, being a big time playmaker in the run and screen game, making the Lions virtually unstoppable on offense.
Has the Reggie Bush, Megatron Combination Lived Up to Expectations?
So far, this duo has not failed to impress. The Lions have only lost once with Bush and Megatron playing the whole game (and that by a last second field goal).
The biggest troubles Detroit has seen are when one of these two have gone down with injury. In Green Bay, the Lions’ offense stalled without Megatron. In Arizona, Detroit’s offense didn’t score a single point in the second half after Bush went down with a knee injury.
Both players have had sensational plays throughout the season living up to expectations. Expect highlight reels to continue being filled by this dynamic duo.
Surprise #1 – Dominant Offensive Line.
My biggest worry at the beginning of the season was the O-line. I knew to expect solid enough play from the veteran center Dominic Raiola and was confident Reilly Reiff would be able to protect Matthew Stafford’s blind side as left tackle, but the rest of the offensive line was almost a complete unknown.
Raiola is suddenly playing better than I can ever remember him playing and the rest of the line looks even better. Rookie Larry Warford even got nominated for Pepsi Next Rookie of the Week in Week 10. When was the last time you saw an offensive lineman’s highlight reel?
Expectation #2 – Scary Defensive Line Led By Suh and Fairly.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairly are supposed to be the dynamic duo of the defense. Detroit beefed up the line, getting bigger, faster defensive ends like Ziggy Ansah and more depth in the defensive line in general.
Fairly has struggled with injuries since joining the Lions, which has kept him from being the dominant player he’s been expected to be. This year, Nick Fairly came back from the offseason in better shape than ever and was getting a great deal of hype.
I expected first round pick Ansah to do well despite his lack of experience but was really excited about Suh and Fairly breaking through offensive lines and terrorizing QBs.
Has the Defensive Line Lived Up to Expectations?
It’s been a mixed bag. Suh has been incredible, though his sack numbers are lower than expected. Fairly had a shoulder injury early in the season and has been inconsistent since.
However, Fairly came through with the huge play at the end of the Bears game that completed the Lions’ sweep of their divisional rival. If Fairly has turned the corner, no QB is safe on any play from him and Suh.
Surprise #2 – Legit Linebacker Play.
I expected the Lions’ linebackers to do pretty well behind Detroit’s impressive defensive line, but they’ve been incredible.
Stephen Tulloch has had a couple sacks this season, which is great when you think about the fact that the Lions almost never blitz. I also remember him pulling down an interception.
Tulloch has also been playing excellent coverage and tackling well; but for as good as he’s been, DeAndre Levy is overshadowing him.
Levy has 5 interceptions, thanks in large part to Ndamukong Suh chasing down quarterbacks and causing bad throws or tipping the ball. All the credit can’t go to Suh. Levy’s coverage is great, he tackles with the best of them, and he also shows real athleticism in going for the ball.
Levy has become a star on Detroit’s defense and is a man quarterbacks have to pay attention to.
Next week I’ll continue with the expectations and surprises of the Lions that make them a team that could beat any other team in the NFL and give them a legitimate chance to make a playoff run to the Super Bowl.