At this time of year, most cities with NFL franchises have high hopes. Whether they were terrific or terrible last year, every new season brings heightened expectations. A free agent here or there, and every team had a fantastic draft getting exactly the players they wanted. How do I know this? The teams and their ever-faithful media tell us so. Every year.
There are towns that have come to expect excellence every year as well. That's because their team has a history of being such. New England, Denver, Green Bay, and recently Seattle come to mind. The Dallas Cowboys always thinks they're the greatest thing since instant replays but, on further review, have seemed to be more about hype than substance.
Other teams just put their heads down and go to work, oftentimes resulting in much success. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are good examples. And it seems every few years the NY Giants soar to improbable heights. Go figure.
But as there are perennial winners, so must there be perennial also-rans. It's unlikely the folks in, say, Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Houston truly believe their team has a shot at greatness this year. Hype is one thing. Reality is another.
And then there's the Detroit Lions. Every year is going to be THE year. They've been saying so for over half a century. Great players have come and gone. The media covering them has spanned several generations. For that matter, fans have been born and died without seeing their beloved Lions be successful. Not since 1957, curiously enough, the year the owning Ford family's super-flop Edsel automobile debuted, have the Lions won anything of note. Fifty seven years have gone by and the Lions have won a grand total of one playoff game. They are one of only four current NFL teams to have never even made it to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. The other three are "expansion" teams.
But this is going to be the year. So sayeth the Lions and their media. The truly sad part is their hard-core fans have bought into it again. Higher ticket prices? No problem. The Honolulu blue and silver lemmings lined up for the "privilege" of watching their beloved puddy tats. Looked at objectively, it's hard to say who is most culpable. The team and media for peddling the koolaid or the addicts that keep buying it. Dealers and junkies. Both need the other to carry on, but somehow it doesn't seem right.
Let's look at what has happened so far. At home, the Lions easily defeated a woeful NY Jets team whose starting quarterback had suffered a broken jaw courtesy of a former teammate. On to DC. The Lions beat up the vastly overrated Robert Griffin III, but he's never been any good since he went pro anyway. The Lions would lose that game to the lowly Redskins.
Next up, the Lions travel to Jacksonville, home of the hapless Jaguars. After that, back to Ford Field to face the clown act of new head coach Rex Ryan and whatever rag-tag team he has thrown together in Buffalo. No, the pre-season games aren't supposed to matter, but the Lions couldn't possibly have been given an easier schedule. But when that's over, things will get serious in a hurry.
Starting the regular season, the Lions head out to San Diego. They don't have a history of faring well on the west coast, and the Chargers will give them a stiff test.
Then to Minnesota. The Lions made short work of the Vikings last year, but Adrian Petersen wasn't there. He'll be back and fully healthy this year. A big difference.
After those two road games, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos come to Motown. Even at home, the Lions will likely be underdogs in that contest.
The following week it's back out to the west coast to face the Seattle Seahawks. That could get ugly.
So here's the deal. Lions' coach Jim Caldwell can say he likes the way his team is progressing, but every coach says that at this time of year. The Lions' media will hype them to the max. They always do. And they might well finish the preseason 3-1. Better yet, maybe all their key players avoid any serious injury.
But when the regular season starts, all the feel-good stories, and tip-toeing through the tulips will come to an abrupt halt.
Those first four games facing the Lions will speak volumes as to just how good, or not, they truly are.
A reality check indeed.