It's Christmas time for Lions fans everywhere.
With less than 12 hours to go until the season opener at Chicago, fans are readying themselves for what is one of the more heavily anticipated seasons in franchise history.
In just a short while, fans will be able to unwrap their 2004 rendition of the Detroit Lions. Heck, this is better than Christmas! Did Lions' Vice President Matt Millen play Old St. Nick during the off-season, or what? Just don't call Matt the jolly fat man, he might want to prove he still has it by shoring up the Lions' questionable linebacking corps ... himself.
Regardless, could this be the year? The pieces seem to be in place. Could the puzzle reveal a Cinderella season?
OK, now for the sobering reality.
The problem is that the line of excitement has been repeated more times than Seinfeld. Unfortunately, the feeling of 'potential' doesn't go away, and the makers of Excedrin, Tylenol, and other mind-altering sedatives are profiting -- especially once the Lions have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (usually around the 10th loss).
Now here comes the proverbial "but." Buuuut, 2004 seems to offer something different.
I'll save you the youthful, talent infusion reasoning the Lions are riding on -- along with Joey Harrington's coming-of-age season. We've all read it. Now it's time for Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Kevin Jones, and Joey to prove Lions' fans -- and team ownership -- finally got it right.
Please, guys. For us?
Lately, fan optimism has been backed by positive press from media outlets -- even the notorious anti-anything Detroit ESPN.
Former NFL cornerback Eric Allen of ESPN, for example, predicted the Lions to win the NFC North division. He must know what he's talking about. Afterall, the network's NFL "expert" John Clayton hasn't played a down of football his entire life -- or at least it doesn't appear so. He has the Minnesota Vikings taking the division ... huh?
The fact is, in a league dominated by parity, the Lions have been quietly building a powerhouse. Albeit a young powerhouse.
Will things be different? Can the Lions shed the losing stigma that has almost become their team motto? Can they go from worst-to-first, as predicted by Dr. Eric Allen, Ph.D., Professional Football?
Let's see ...
Week 1 @ Chicago: Lions open up with guns ‘a blazing offensively. Chicago's
defense -- along with linebacker Brian Urlacher -- are overrated. Lions'
defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and QB's coach Greg Olson know Bears'
inexperienced QB Rex Grossman better than he knows himself.
Lions 31 – Bears 16
Week 2 Houston: Joey versus Texans' QB David Carr. It's about time these two
former 2001 first-round picks squared off. It's the Lions' home opener, and
they'll roll. The Texans are talented, but so are the Lions.
Lions 24 – Texans 17
Week 3 Philadelphia: Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens, and a lot of questions
in the Eagles' secondary enter Ford Field. The Lions match up well against
Philly, and two consecutive wins along with a youthful team only builds
confidence. No let down here. Lions start to garner national
Lions 20 – Eagles 17
Week 5 @ Atlanta: Michael Vick is already under the gun in Hotlanta. The
Falcons have a new head coach, a new offensive system and questions in the
secondary as well. It's indoors, where speed kills. If it's Vick versus the
Lions, Detroit has more players – and they're fast, too, Mike.
Lions 23 – Falcons 13
Week 6 Green Bay Packers: Four wins and zero losses, the division leading
Lions will take another swing at the NFC North division. Green Bay is strong,
along with veteran quarterback Brett Favre, but they annually struggle in
Detroit. The post-season chatter has begun!
Lions 31 – Packers 21
Week 7 @ N.Y. Giants: And the post-season chatter is put on hold. The Giants
aren't the toughest team in the NFC, or even remotely close, but the Lions are
due for a let down. The winning streak ends in New York, where Kurt Warner is
still the starting quarterback, and Giants' head coach Tom Coughlin has his team
playing tough football.
Giants 17 – Lions 13
Week 8 @ Dallas: On Halloween night, the Lions' experience their first real
scare – a losing streak. Bill Parcells has a veteran quarterback that won't make
many mistakes against the Lions' talented cornerback duo, yet the Cowboys'
secondary is a challenge that the Lions young receiving core has yet to face.
This one gets ugly for the Lions. Gotta have at least one,
Cowboys 24 – Lions 10
Week 9 Washington: Home sweet home. After a tough two-game road trip, the
friendly confines of Ford Field brings the best out of the Lions and their
offensive skill players. Joe Gibbs hasn't witnessed speed like this since his
days at the track.
Lions 34 – Redskins 14
Week 10 @ Jacksonville: The overrated Jaguars have proven to be exactly that
this year, overrated. Lions prove that their road wins earlier in the season
were no fluke.
Lions 27 – Jaguars 16
Week 11 @ Minnesota: This is the statement game of all statement games. At
7-2, the Lions are in command with the Vikings close on their heels. Dre' Bly
and Fernando Bryant handle the Vikings' receivers, but it's still a defensive
struggle. Jason Hanson pulls the Lions out of trouble, and into an eighth
Lions 13 – Vikings 10 – OT
Week 12 Indianapolis: Peyton versus Joey. Edge versus KJ. A shootout before
National Television, where the Lions traditionally come to play. The Colts,
though, are just too strong.. Expect fireworks, and then thank Matt Millen later
for providing the offensive firepower to at least keep up.
Colts 37 – Lions 31
Week 13 Arizona: Yes, folks, the Lions will make the 2004 playoffs, and this
one should pretty much solidify that berth. One question: Dennis Green, what
were you thinking?
Lions 34 – Cardinals 13
Week 14 @ Green Bay: We would all love to see that very elusive Lambeau win.
Don't hold your breath. Green Bay is never fond of the Lions, especially when
it's cold (this is a December game). At least we won't have to watch Schroeder
short-arm anything this time.
Green Bay 24 – Lions 12
Week 15 Minnesota: Someone's out for revenge, and a playoff spot of their
own. Lions suffer an embarrassment at home, and their second losing
Minnesota 34 – Lions 20
Week 16 Chicago: Lions take care of some business at home, completing the
sweep of ‘Da Bears' for the 2004 season. This one is a cakewalk. Lions surpass
40-point mark for the first time.
Lions 40 – Bears 16
Week 17 @ Tennessee: The Titans aren't the Titans from the last few years,
but they are still an incredibly tough team, especially on their own field.
Lions fall, but end the season with a post-season spot.
Titans 19 – Lions 14
Ten wins. Six losses. And, no, you didn't hear it here first: A divisional crown for the Detroit Lions. What a difference an off-season makes.
The roar has been restored in Detroit. Just make sure give the much-maligned Matt Millen a nice, big thank you.
Or a glass of milk and some cookies.