The parallels between the Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers only end where they begin to matter. Each ball club entered the 2010 season under a second-year coach, led by a prolific, second-year quarterback, and drafted a mammoth defensive tackle early in the first-round to help anchor a young but talented, fledgling defense. Each team had high hopes.
Only one of them has fulfilled them.
As the Lions (3-10) prepare for Sunday's visit to Tampa Bay, they'll be, pardon the Potter reference, staring into the Mirror of Erised. The Buccaneers (8-5) are allegorical to what Detroit has envisioned in the long term -- only they've done it in less than a year. The Bucs' starting signal caller, Josh Freeman, has been effective if not remarkable, cataloging 17 touchdown passes en route to a respectable rating of 87.9. Like Matthew Stafford, Freeman was drafted in the first-round last year, flaunted a strong arm during his rookie campaign, and looked every part of his franchise's future.
Unlike Stafford, he's managed to stay healthy. And that difference has been the catalyst to success for one team, failure for the other.
"I think we're using the same formula," Buccaneers' coach Raheem Morris said during Wednesday's media call. "The whole process of addressing the quarterback, getting somebody that you can lean the franchise on.
"Unfortunately, (Stafford) is going through some issues and going through some injury things, whatever you may call it."
Second-year QB Josh Freeman has led Tampa Bay to the cusp of a post-season appearance.
We call it Detroit football. In a hypothetical world, the brief sampling that comprises Stafford's 2010 output helps recreate a familiar Disney story to the one enjoyed by the Buccaneers. The Lions look at Tampa Bay as a team they could be. But perhaps more importantly -- and painful, a team they should be.
The good news is that the likeness isn't necessarily lost on anyone.
Said Morris, "I know our record is a little bit better, but that's not the tell all be all when you look at these two teams on tape."
The Buccaneers are ranked slighty ahead of Detroit in defense, allowing three less points per game. But they've also suffered their fair share of setbacks; Tampa has lost three defensive starters to injury in the past week, including defensive tackle and No. 3 overall pick Gerald McCoy (torn biceps), whom the Lions once considered taking with the first overall pick instead of Ndamukong Suh.
At least some things have worked in Detroit's favor.
Yet Morris' bunch tallied just three wins in 2009. The first-year head coach was embattled, but the team saw potential in its young quarterback. Their turnaround this year has been one of the league's better stories.
But while Tampa Bay is a wild card contender, their winning ways have been at the expense of team's that only know how to lose (thank you, John Clayton). Tampa's five losses? To opponents that have winning records.
By contrast, seven of Detroit's losses have been to team's jockeying for playoff contention.
In a long-term situation, short-term achievement is seldom a qualifier for success. If true character is forged through difficult times, maybe Detroit, like its quarterback, will yield something more substantial than what many deem to be a fluky post-season run.
Or so they hope.
"I think that there's a lot of things that have come up this year that we've learned from and hopefully when we're in the situation again, we don't make the same mistakes," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Wednesday. "Hopefully when you make progress as a team, you're learning from what's gone on and that's really the biggest cost there.
"It's not so much (Stafford's) development as much as it is the experience and going through that with the rest of his teammates."
The vote is in ...
Ndamukong Suh's stellar rookie campaign hasn't gone unnoticed by opposing quarterbacks, nor unrewarded by the fans. Suh currently leads all defensive tackles on the league's Pro Bowl ballot with over 300,000 votes. Michael Vick is leading all vote getters with over 980,000.
Voting will culminate on Dec. 20.
No quarterback named ... yet
Schwartz refused to name a starting quarterback for Sunday's contest, leading to speculation that the team might feel comfortable with the return of back-up Shaun Hill.
Hill has missed the past two games with a broken finger, but has thrown the past two practices. Matthew Stafford was listed as out for Wednesday's session.
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