Let's start by stating that a lot could certainly change between now and the last two games of the year. However, at this point, if the 49ers are in the midst of a playoff chase, they face a potentially easy close to the season at home against Detroit and on the road at St. Louis. Certainly not gimmes, but exceedingly winnable games. Those could be seriously exciting games when we reach that point. At the same time, both teams, and particularly the Detroit Lions are intriguing this year. The Lions have made some major additions that will make or break this season (at least in terms of actually winning a few games).
The Detroit Lions are represented here at SB Nation by Sean Yuille over at Pride of Detroit.
Not much needs to be said about the 2008 Detroit Lions. There are train wrecks and then there are train wrecks. For those that were living under a rock, the Lions managed to become the first team in league history to finish 0-16. There had been numerous opportunities in the past, but the Lions stepped up to claim the prize. It's not exactly shocking then to take a look at their offensive and defensive DVOA and general team efficiency and see a team at or near the bottom in every category. One interesting note is that in looking at their overall efficiency, they really weren't that much worse than the Rams. Of course, the question becomes, do you want to go 2-14 and be generally ignored? Or would you rather go 0-16 and take history with you? Me, personally, I want infamy. Why be bad when you can be historically bad? It's one reason (of many) 7-9 can drive me crazy. You're middle of the pack of mediocrity and nobody cares about that. Either be good or god-awful.
After the jump we look at the Lions offseason additions and subtractions, 2009 Questions and Answers and a quick preview of the matchup...
Aside from the #1 pick, the Lions dealt for the 20th pick in the first round, giving them 3 of the first 33 picks. For believers in building through the draft, that's definitely a good start. They added QB Matt Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew and S Louis Delmas with those picks. Injuries have gotten in the way of Pettigrew and Delmas but both are expected to get extensive playing time early on. One draft pick of particular note for Bay Area sports fans was 7th round pick, OLB Zack Follett. Lions fans were happy with the pick and I have to say I can't blame them. Maybe he doesn't have superstar athleticism, but he's a badass plain and simple.
Outside of the draft, the Lions were extremely busy in the offseason. Of course, given how awful they were is that all that surprising? Their most high profile move was a trade that sent away DT Cory Redding and a fifth round pick for old 49er favorite OLB Julian Peterson. They also got former 49ers WR Bryant Johnson. He's been banged up in camp (shocker there) and continues to struggle to make the "leap." We'll see if he can do it with a rookie QB (or even Daunte Culpepper). Aside from that they added an assortment of new starters including CB Phillip Buchanon, TE Will Heller, DT Grady Jackson, MLB Larry Foote, and LG Daniel Loper among others. We'll see if they improve, but at least they look a heck of a lot different.
Considering the Lions made a lot of offseason additions, it's only natural that they would also have numerous subtractions. They of course dealt Redding away for Peterson. In free agency they lost DT Shaun Cody and FB Moran Norris, among many others. Given how bad they were I'd imagine a lot of turnover is not really a bad thing, even if it included their leading tackler Paris Lenon. Rather than go into more depth here, I thought I'd move it down to the more fitting...
2009 Questions and Answers
My biggest question in a broad sense is how quickly the turnover will be reflected in the record? The team has added a variety of players across the board, and also added a new coach in former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The 49ers made some drastic moves back in 2005, but it did not really seem to be along the lines of this. It was more build down in order to eventually build up (or something like that). One way to assess it: The over/under on Lions wins in 2009 is 4.5. Would you go over or under that number?
Getting a little more specific, a big early question is the QB position. The Lions drafted Matt Stafford #1 overall and I'm wondering how long it will take for him to claim the starting job. The current unofficial depth chart at Lions.com lists Culpepper #1 and Stafford #2. I wouldn't be surprised to see Culpepper rolled out early on, but I'm wondering if he'll hold onto the job all season long. Given how bad the Lions look to be, is it worth just rolling out Stafford, or do you let him sit and learn for a year? Good teams tend to sit the QB while bad teams throw him to the wolves. Personally I say sit him and avoid getting him killed. Maybe they'll struggle but why destroy his confidence within the first month of the season?
Other than that it's really a question of how the youngsters (such as Kevin Smith and Gosder Cherilus) continue to develop. If the Lions can continue to grow, they could get back to respectability in the not too distant future. They simply need to show patience in the process (fitting coming from a 49ers fan).
@ San Francisco
I don't care how quickly the Lions improve, the 49ers simply cannot lose this game. In Bigelow and I's early season discussion, it was fairly easy to agree on a win here. As I said then, I do think the Lions will be an improved team, but I think the 49ers are simply better at this point, no question about it. The 49ers had very few statement games last year, but the home win over Detroit was probably the easiest. It's safe to say we would like a lot more statement games in 2009.