When it comes to the Detroit Lions, many are skeptics.
Decades of disappointment have turned many Lions supporters into doubters, who are simply waiting for the team to fail – even when faced with success.
It’s an understandable mentality for fans who have witnessed only seven winning seasons since the NFL moved to a 16-game regular season in 1978 – including the league’s only 0-16 season.
Of those seven winning seasons, five were barely above the winning threshold (9-7), meaning the Lions have only had three seasons since 1978 with at least 10 wins.
Even worse, a 9-7 record would have been welcomed in the Motor City over the last decade.
The Lions strung together 10 consecutive seasons with a losing record since last going 9-7 in 2000, including a few seasons where they failed to capitalize on decent starts.
The Lions started the season off with a 4-2 record in 2004 before ending the season 6-10. In 2005, a 3-3 start put the Lions in a position to push for the playoffs with a strong finish, unfortunately there was little pushing as the team finished 5-11.
The 2007 season may have left the most significant scars. In eerily similar fashion to this year’s squad, the 2007 Lions finished the first half of the season at 6-2.
The offense was scoring points and the defense was creating turnovers. The team even routed the Denver Broncos – 44-7 – to pick up their sixth win. From there, the Lions would lose seven of their last eight games, setting the stage for the disastrous 2008 season.
So, with all that, do non-believers of the 2011 Lions – the 6-2 team that just rolled over the Broncos – have merit in their skepticism?
Team captain and center Dominic Raiola, who is one of six remaining members of the 2007 team, doesn’t think so.
“Different feel and different team,” said Raiola. “It’s not the same team.”
Raiola believes the biggest disparity between the two teams is a fundamental one; talent.
When comparing the rosters, that is easily validated.
You don’t have to be an NFL talent evaluator to see Matthew Stafford is superior to Jon Kitna or Stephen Tulloch to Paris Lenon. But that team was able to hide some of their talent deficiencies in their six victories.
The difference is, the lack of talent was evident in their two losses.
“If you look at this team and that team, it’s totally different, where we are at,” said Raiola. “We also only lost two games in the first eight games of that season, but we were blown out.”
In 2007, the Lions lost their week three contest to the Philadelphia Eagles, 56-21, as well the matchup two weeks later with the Washington Redskins, 34-3. Despite their 6-2 record, the Lions had only outscored their opponents by 15 points, registering 200 points while surrendering 185.
Also, of the six teams the Lions defeated in the first half of 2007, only one finished with a winning record – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 9-7.
This year’s team has scored more points and allowed less points through eight games while outscoring their opponents by 92 points – best in the league.
The 2011 Lions – whether fair or not – will have the weight of past failures placed on their shoulders. In order to prove they are truly different, they simply have to not collapse.
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