After being a joke of a franchise the past decade, there are encouraging signs in Detroit that the Lions are finally turning things around. The team rebuilt heavily in the past two drafts, nailing their first four selections in 2009, and landing Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh in the first round this year. They ended the season on a four-game winning streak, finishing the year 6-10 — tied for their second-best record since 2001, however pathetic that may be.
Detroit’s defense played well over the final month of the year, allowing only three points to the Packers (who were without Aaron Rodgers most of the game), and 13 to the Vikings in the season finale. The two home divisional wins proved Detroit can compete in the NFC North, and they were a referee screw job away from more than respectability in the division. On top of the wins over Green Bay and Minnesota, the Lions won at Tampa Bay and Miami in the final month, with the road win over Tampa standing out.
Not only was Detroit’s defense ascending towards the end of the season, their offense did well despite swinging between backups Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton. Second-year tight end Brandon Pettigrew became one of Hill’s favorite targets and justified the first-round pick Detroit expended to get him, while Calvin Johnson dominated as he did two years ago. Unfortunately, former top overall pick Matthew Stafford was injured for the second straight year and forced to miss all but two and a half games, but he showed extreme promise in the action he saw.
The biggest obstacle for Detroit next season will be health. If they can get 16 games out Stafford, Jahvid Best (who was bothered by turf toe), and Calvin Johnson, they will be set. The defense is improving and the offense has all the right pieces to succeed if healthy. This is a team on the rise for the future.