Imperfect storm: Lions have legitimate shot at an 0-16 season
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In an NFL season devoid of great teams and in which almost anyone can beat anyone, any time, anywhere, I've decided the only thing we can truly count on is the Detroit Lions. To lose. And lose. And lose again.
I know what you're thinking, Cincinnati fans. What about our 0-7 Bengals? Why the disrespect of their hard-earned futility? To that I say, let's not forget that Marvin Lewis's club took the defending Super Bowl champions into overtime on the road in Week 3, so if you're going to flirt with victory to that degree, you're not going to elicit our unwavering confidence when it comes to assuring weekly failure.
No, for me it's the 0-6 Lions who represent that last bastion of NFL consistency, a beacon of deficiency and defeat amid an almost league-wide sea of uncertainty and unpredictability. Detroit is solid, like a very heavy rock sinking ever lower to the depths, and there's a growing sense of perfect imperfection to these Lions that I'm starting to appreciate.
This is a team that has been outscored 54-0 in the first quarter this season, and has trailed 21-0 in three of its six games. This is a team that has lost 13 of its past 14 games dating to last year's second-half collapse, and hasn't won a road game in nearly a year (since Week 8 last year, at Chicago). This is a team that already has fired its general manager (Matt Millen), traded a starting receiver (Roy Williams) and lost its starting quarterback (Jon Kitna), without any of those moves providing the least bit of spark or a changing of its sad-sack karma.
Other than the expansion Texans, only three NFL teams have yet to make the playoffs this decade. The Bills (not since 1999) and Cardinals (not since 1998) are in first place in their respective divisions and will be in January's Super Bowl tournament. And then there are the Lions, who haven't sniffed the playoffs since 1999. See what I mean about being dependable?
I know it's early, and anything (surprisingly positive) could still happen in these last 10 weeks, but I'm starting to think Rod Marinelli's team is going to make a real run at this 0-for-2008 thing. Seriously. (As I wrote that, I found myself humming Lennon: "You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.'')
Sure, it's hard to go 0-16. The Dolphins proved that last season, winning despite themselves in overtime in Week 15 against Baltimore. But when you look at the final 10 games of Detroit's schedule, and factor in the Lions' reliability, a winless season is a real possibility. And I'm not even the first guy to broach the topic. Lions starting center Dominic Raiola took care of that in Detroit's post-game locker room on Sunday in Houston, following the 28-21 loss to a Texans team that had entered the game at 1-4.
"I'm not saying the season's done yet because we can beat some teams,'' Raiola said. "I'm not even looking at 0-16. But I didn't think we'd be in this situation. I don't think anyone did.''
Over their final 10 games, the Lions play six at home. Strangely enough, I think that works against them, because their two worst losses this year were at Ford Field, where the level of disgust with the local football club is at least approaching an all-time high (and that's saying something in Detroit, folks): A 48-25 loss to Green Bay in Week 2, and 34-7 to Chicago in Week 5. True, Millen's not around to beat up any more, but I have a feeling Lions fans have other targets at which to vent their frustration in the final six home games of the season.
As Raiola said Sunday: "We've gotta go home and get one. I don't know who's going to be there, to be honest. I mean, they don't want to see 0-6, you know.''
We know, Dom. We know. It could get ugly under the big top in downtown Detroit before this baby is put to bed for the year. And who could blame Lions fans for that?
Clear-eyed assessment of Detroit's remaining 10 opponents reveals there's not really a soft touch among them. I'm being honest when I say it's not even a stretch that eight of those 10 could make the playoffs. Only two of them currently have losing records, and at 3-4, both the Saints and Vikings are still viable contenders in their divisions.
But don't take my word for it alone, check out Detroit's schedule and come to your own conclusion. Who do the Lions beat among the following?:
They're home against Washington (5-2) in Week 8, at Chicago (4-3) in Week 9; home against road-tested Jacksonville (3-3) in Week 10; at unbeaten-at-home Carolina (4-2) in Week 11; home against Tampa Bay (4-2) in Week 12; home against undefeated Tennessee (6-0) on Thanksgiving in Week 13; home against Minnesota (3-4) in Week 14; at Indianapolis (3-3) in Week 15; home against New Orleans (3-4) in Week 16; and at Green Bay (4-3) in Week 17.
See what I mean? This thing could happen. Maybe the Vikings or the Colts could be out of it by then and succumb to Detroit, or maybe the Lions could rise up and pull one of their Turkey Day upsets over the cruising Titans. But I'm pretty sure Detroit is going to get to 0-10 or 0-11 before it even gets to the portion of its schedule where victory might be snatched from the jaws of defeat.
In this new world order that prevails in 2008, the Patriots aren't the Patriots any more, and we're not sure what has happened to the Colts, Chargers, Cowboys or Seahawks. But thankfully the Lions are still the Lions, and because of it, there's at least one fixed point that we can set our NFL compass to in this most unpredictable of seasons.
Could the Cowboys' meltdown this month be traced to "the Curse of Hard Knocks?'' Nobody who has been featured in the popular HBO training camp documentary series has done all that well, if you stop and think about it.
Kansas City went 4-12 after its turn before the cameras in 2007. Jacksonville missed the playoffs at 9-7 in 2004. Dallas was 5-11 in 2002, and Baltimore in 2001 was the only team to make the postseason after giving HBO the all-access treatment. Then again, the Ravens were the defending Super Bowl champions that year, and they only mustered a 10-6 wild-card finish, winning just one playoff game before losing in the divisional round.