Monday, August 24, 2015

The luck of the Detroit Lions

For an NFL season that hasn't even officially got underway yet, a lot of bad things have already happened to various players around the league. They're dropping like flies. Consider:

Carolina Panther wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been lost for the season. At 6-5, 245, he's the equivalent of the Lions' Calvin Johnson. Except at 24, he's several years younger. At that, he led the league in rookie receiving yardage last year. Can you imagine the Lions being without Megatron for the year?

Granted, the NY Jets weren't exactly expected to be world-beaters this year, particularly under the tutelage of new coach Todd Bowles -- but they lost their starting QB Geno Smith. Where would the Lions be without Matthew Stafford?

On a fluke play, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost starting center Maurice Pouncey to an ankle injury. Next stop, surgery. To be sure, the Lions offensive line remains unsettled at best, and whether center Travis Swanson can hold his own remains to be seen. But the Lions don't need any more bad news in that department, to say the least.

It appears the Green Bay Packers have lost receiver Jordy Nelson for the season with a torn ACL. He is to the Pack what the above-mentioned Calvin Johnson/Kelvin Benjamin were to their teams. The go-to guy in the passing game.

So far, the Lions have been lucky in the serious injury department. Sure, they have a few guys nursing dings here and there, but so does every other team. But most of the Lions players that aren't fully healthy aren't exactly star-caliber. For that matter, some of them even making the final roster is far from being etched in stone.

Few would doubt the Packers were considered a far superior team to the Lions going into this season. The loss of Jordy Nelson is a huge blow to them and makes the Lions chances in the NFC Central a bit better. Bad for Green Bay. Good for Detroit.

On a related note, it's still unknown whether New England QB Tom Brady will be allowed to start the season. It seems federal judge Richard Berman is dragging his feet as long as possible in the matter of the Deflategate proceedings. Maybe the 4 game suspension stands. Maybe it's only 2 games. Maybe it's none at all. Nobody knows. This puts the Pats in a bind. How can a team prepare for the regular season when they don't know if their all-world QB will be available or not? Imagine the Lions in the same situation with Matthew Stafford. He's hardly Brady caliber, but he's the best the Lions have. Would he still be getting first team reps in practice if the team wasn't sure he would be available to start the season pending the whim of a judge? Maybe. Maybe not.

So far, while other teams have seen star players go down with season-ending injuries, the luck of the Lions appears to be holding. Yeah, Calvin Johnson has yet to play, because he's become a bit gimpy over the years. This is what happens when Matthew Stafford kept throwing the ball to him in double or triple coverage. Lots of yardage and spectacular catches. Also a lot of brutal hits. They take their toll. Last year, Johnson could seldom even practice during the week. He'd just suit up for game day and go take another beating.

Most NFL teams have a policy that if a player can't practice, he can't play in the next game. Not the Lions. They needed CJ. Over the years, due to their woeful lack of a running game, their philosophy appeared to be -- when in doubt -- heave it in the general direction of Megatron. He can catch everything. Often he did, but it was what happened a split-second later that has become problematic. Something about all those hits.

If he puts up decent stats for a few more years, it might just be Calvin Johnson would be considered for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame someday. Heavy on the "might". He's nowhere near close yet. In fact, most experts don't even consider him a Top 5 receiver anymore, mostly due to his gimpy issues.

Make no mistake, besides being super-talented, Calvin Johnson is a trooper as a football player and a fantastic individual off the field. A role model. It would be nice to see him enshrined in Canton someday. Here's hoping if that day ever comes, the once-feared Megatron can still walk up to the podium, and remember what his name is when it comes time for his acceptance speech. But he can't keep absorbing all the punishment like he has over the last few years either. The guys in the other uniforms don't care. Their job is to light him up every chance they get. And they have. Poor devil.

Any NFL fan, or reporter, that is smarter than your average brick, knows full well the preseason games mean nothing. The Lions are 1-1 against two bad teams, but it doesn't matter. Neither will the next two "exhibition" games. Let's not forget, the Lions were 4-0 in the 2008 preseason -- then followed it up as the only team in NFL history to go 0-16 in the regular season. The epitome of ineptitude. Punch lines for late-night talk show hosts.

Even last year they were lucky. Sure, Lions' fans will scream they were jobbed on a bad call against Dallas in a playoff game. Perhaps they were. But they tend to forget some of the miracles that fell their way to get them in the playoffs in the first place. When's the last time you heard of a team losing a game on a missed field goal attempt as time ran out, only to get a second chance on a penalty against THEMSELVES? And then win it. It happened for the Lions against the Atlanta Falcons in a game played in England. Without that little bit of unlikely luck, the Lions wouldn't have been in the playoffs at all.

Not only did they have a patsy schedule last year befitting their hapless record from the year before, division rival Minnesota was without the services of Adrian Peterson, arguably the best running back in the game. Just days before they were due to face the Arizona Cardinals, their starting QB Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending injury.

But it was what it was and the Lions made the playoffs. Because of that, this year their schedule is much harder. That's the way it works in the NFL.

Per usual, this year the Lions' are being hyped by the usual suspects that are hopelessly addicted to the Honolulu blue and silver koolaid. If their luck holds out, especially at key positions, they could have a respectable year. Thinking they are Super Bowl caliber is pure folly and luck can only take a team so far.

Given their schedule, this year they have to be flat-out good. Play at the best of their questionable potential to even have a shot at getting back to the playoffs.

We shall see.......

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