I worship Mike Valenti. Hes almost always right, especially about college football. And when I said the Lions were improving earlier this season, losing by less than a touchdown every week instead of being blown out every week. He said the Lions were just good enough to lose, and that isn't good enough.
But he was right, not only were we just good enough to lose, but they were still behind almost the whole league in every statistical category, and losing games in dumb ways. Sure, they lost close games, but they should have won many of them. And good teams don't do that.
At the same time, Valenti pointed out how great Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez looked, and how hurt Stafford was all the time. He had some points, Stafford was hurt constantly and Sanchez was playing well. Sanchez was handed a Super Bowl team, and when he plays above average teams, he tends to struggle. Bradford is more impressive to me. Despite having no receivers, he puts up solid numbers and is going to lead his team to the playoffs, in the worst division of all time. I'm still hoping Stafford just re injured his shoulder twice, after coming back too soon to play against the Redskins. Its a possibility, and may mean he isn't injury prone, but it is still a concern.
But the Lions have proved everybody wrong by getting hot down the stretch and beating good teams to show with no doubt they are improving. Wins over two teams struggling to make the playings, and one over a team that just can't win at home. And they are winning without many of their starters. This much is clear, Schwartz and Mayhew have found some good depth, found some difference making starters, and are changing the culture in Detroit. We have seen many teams finish a season well and go on to bigger or better things. For example, the 2008 Packers built a foundation for making the playoffs the next year. The Lions are going to attract better free agents, and with another good draft, and a little luck the playoffs aren't out of the realm of possibility.
I do not want to play the what if game, because its a complete fan thing to do, but with Stafford healthy all year, and if the refs got the call right in Week 1, the Lions would be battling for a playoff spot right now with the Giants and Packers, not battling the Vikings for 3rd place in the division. A healthy Stafford is key, and improving the offensive line is vital. Backus and Peterman must go. Backus has let up too many kill shot sacks, getting all three QBs hurt, and Peterman has had one dumb penalty after another. I like Sims, Raiola is still solid, and Hilliard is filling in very nicely at Right Tackle with Cherilus out with injury. Next year I propose a why the heck not plan. Let Cherilus and Backus try to win their jobs, but take an OT early, then a new RG soon after that. Let Cherilus save his job anyway possible. Try him at RG, LT, whatever. Then, if he can't play, or Backus can't be moved cut them. That is why we have Hilliard, and why we drafted Jake Fox. They aren't working, so make them work or else.
After hitting rock bottom, the Lions are climbing their way back to the top of the standings, improving in every area and winning with backups. The fan base is believing again, and the course is set. Now we just have to hit on a few more draft picks, sign some more players and keep playing winning football. The rest will take care of itself.