Detroit Lions: The Ultimate Underdog

The Detroit Lions are off to a 2-0 start. A team turning itself around from 6-10 is not unheard of in the parity-ridden NFL. The Lions, however, have defied parity. Since the dawn of the 16-game schedule in 1978, no franchise has won fewer games or had a worse winning percentage than the Lions. This current crop of Lions has the potential to break from their savage history. 

Winning Percentages since 1978

Many fans take for granted that bad NFL teams will become good teams over time. Talent wins football games, and nothing beats high draft picks when it comes to adding talent. The Lions have walked an almost impossible line of producing bad team after bad team, and still managing to squander high draft picks at a rate high enough to sustain their losing. Detroit has a league-worst .380 winning percentage since 1978 (see chart), averaging only six wins per season. They have made the playoffs only eight times in that span. Only the Arizona Cardinals (4) and Cincinnati Bengals (6) have played each season since 1978 and had fewer playoff apperances (the Saints also have eight playoff appearances in that time).

Much of that suckage can be traced back to instablity at the quarterback position. The Lions have had 17 different passing leaders over the course of those 33 seasons. Even a near-.500 franchise like the Seattle Seahawks have only had 9 passing leaders in the same time frame. The Lions are basically churning through a new starting quarterback every other season. That’s no way to build a winner.

Mathew Stafford was drafted three offseasons ago, and has finally stayed healthy long enough to give Lions fans hope that they might finally have a franchise quarterback.The Lions have had exactly zero Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the past 33 seasons. Every fan knows it is hard to find a franchise quarterback, but what Detroit has managed seems harder.

The 2011 Lions are known best for their defensive powerhouse, Ndamukong Suh, but their offense is 2nd in the NFL in points/game and 8th in yards/game. Stafford leads the way with a 4th-ranked QB rating of 112.0. Their receiving trio of Nate Burleson, Calvin Johnson and Titus Young have 26 receptions between them, and Johnson already has four touchdowns through two games. Running back Jahvid Best gives Stafford another weapon out of the backfield, and is second on the team with 10 catches. 

Suh is the superstar on a potentially dominant defensive line. Kyle Vanden Bosch is still productive at 32, with two sacks already, fellow veteran Cliff Avril is coming off a 9-sack season, but rookie Nick Fairley has yet to suit up due to injury. If Fairley is half of what he was in college, the combination at defensive tackle could be the best in the NFL, and make this D-line truly fearsome.

Beating Tampa Bay on the road was a strong start to the season, and trouncing the Chiefs 48-3 added momentum. The Lions travel to Minnesota and Dallas the next two weeks before a three-game home stand againt division rival Chicago, San Francisco and Atlanta. There do not appear to be many patsies on the docket outside of Denver and possibly Minnesota. Carolina certainly can’t be taken lightly at this point. Two games with Green Bay, an away game against the Saints and a home game against San Diego make the Lions’ road to the playoffs an onerous one. 

The unparalleled agony Detroit fans have had to endure should have casual fans around the league lining up to jump on the silver and blue bandwagon. After all, America loves an underdog, and these Lions surely have earned the label.