It's certainly no secret the abrupt (and early) retirement of Calvin Johnson dealt the Lions a major blow. The Megatron was their "go to guy". When in doubt, heave the ball in the general direction of Calvin and hope he could make a spectacular catch. Often he did, even in double or triple coverage.
But as they say, Calvin Johnson is past tense this year. History. Thanks for the memories, and all that.
What IS somewhat surprising is where an early poll ranks the Lions in the NFL hierarchy. They have them pegged all the way down at #28. Only Cleveland, San Fran, Tennessee, and San Diego are projected as being worse teams than the Motowners.
Wow. Are they really going to be that bad?
Maybe. The loss of the Megatron was only the latest erosion of the team. In the last few years the Lions have seen other star players (by their standards) depart. Defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Cliff Avril all took a hike to free agency and landed elsewhere. Longtime center Dominic Raiola hung up his cleats a couple years ago. He may have been a loose cannon and a loudmouth, but he anchored the offensive line for what seemed forever.
In recent years the Lions haven't really had a good running back, nor will they this year. They've always been far more dependent on the passing game with Johnson as the star attraction. Sure, they'll have other receivers, but the loss of the Megatron is compounded in another way.
CJ always drew at least double coverage from the opposing teams. With him gone, that frees up another defender to cover the other guys.
The offensive line remains unsettled. Nobody's quite sure who's going to play what position, and adding a couple draft picks into the mix doesn't make things any easier. Typically, it takes an O-line several games, if not a year or two playing together before they truly gel as a unit. The Lions will be flying by the seat of their pants trying to run block and protect quarterback Matthew Stafford. And Stafford was sacked an awful lot last year.
The linebacker corps looks to be decidedly average at best. Some of those guys could play for other teams -- and some likely couldn't. The same could be said of the Lions defensive backs.
The Lions have a reliable punter and place kicker, but these aren't the guys good teams want to see on the field overly often. That means a team isn't scoring touchdowns.
The rest of the special teams? What can you say about a bunch of kamikazes flying down the field? Sometimes they'll make a good play, Other times they'll miss and get burnt.
The head coach, one Jim Caldwell, is a major question mark himself. In years past for other teams, he was considered a terrific coordinator, but crashed and burned shortly after he inherited the head coaching position.
If the Peter Principle is going to smack down Caldwell like it has in the past, this looks to be the year for it to happen. With so many other ifs, the Lions without Calvin Johnson could spiral back down to the nether regions of the NFL yet again.
Even the Lions front office has undergone a major shake up. The old stalwarts were broomed and a young guy (Bob Quinn) from the New England Patriots organization is running the show. Of course, the Lions have always been a far cry from the Patriots from the top on down. When measuring standards of excellence, comparing Detroit to New England would be akin to lining up a cub scout troop with a Navy SEAL team. It just doesn't compute.
But dang. #28? For the record, the same poll had Detroit's division rivals ranked as follows:
Chicago Bears. #22.
Minnesota Vikings. #9.
And to no one's great surprise, the Green Bay Packers checked in at #3.
#2 is the Carolina Panthers, last year's Super Bowl runner-up.
On top of the heap are the Arizona Cardinals.
True, it's the NFL and anything can happen. No doubt we'll see our fair share of upsets along the way this year.
But the cream usually rises to the top in the end. And being ranked 28th out of 32 hardly constitutes cream.
More like sour milk.
Then again, it's the Lions.
What's another year?