I think the consensus, nearly everywhere I've read, is that the Lions are somewhere between "bad" and "average", better than last year, 'on their way up', etc, but 2010 isn't the year. Somewhere between 4-12 and 8-8.
I'm going to challenge this a little. Here's my question...Are the we not good enough to have a chance at making the playoffs this year?
Last year was the mother of all rebuilding years, new gm, new coach, new scheme, new oc, new dc, new qb, etc. We couldn't possibly hope to win more games than we lost. We were heavily dependent on rookies playing above any realistic expectations.
As I look at our starters at each position, and try to project whether their performance ought to be average, above-average or below-average compared to the rest of the NFL, I just don't see us as a below-average team. Am I too optimistic with these:
Matthew Stafford - has all the tools to be an elite QB, strong arm, smart, leader, we all know what he brings. And he's not a rookie anymore. above-average.
Jeff Backus - a better run-blocker than a pass-blocker against elite DE's, but he's still a very solid tackle, durable as a rock. above-average.
Rob Sims - a relatively young but experienced starting guard, should be in the prime of his career, the only reason he's not with Seattle is their scheme. Our win. above-average.
Dominic Raiola - not a mauler, in fact probably a weaker blocker than most starting centers, but he hasn't had the chance to play between two consistently good guards in his career, and everybody on or close to the team raves about his leadership, feistyness, and the tempo he brings, so I think that makes up for his shortcomings. Like Backus, I think he'll look a lot better this year than years past, playing next to a hole at LG. average.
Stephen Peterman - has played pretty well when healthy, but he's coming off an injury this year. Solid starter. average.
Gosder Cherilus - has excellent talent, but hasn't lived up to it yet. Should be a dominating RT which his size, and I'm confident he can turn that corner this year and at least be at least as good as the average starting right tackle.
Brandon Pettigrew - top TE in the 2009 draft, huge blocker, huge target, struggled early as a rookie, but just seemed to begin to get it before his injury. When he returns healthy, he should at least be an above-average tight end. Tony Scheffler further adds upside at the position.
Calvin Johnson - above-average. In fact, way the hell out of this world above average, but my scale for this exercise only has three options.
Nate Burleson - not as a #1, but a very savvy #2 WR who should be an above-average #2 WR playing on the field with Stafford and Calvin Johnson. He was certainly productive when he got to play with Randy Moss in Minnesota.
It's tough going through the learning curve for rookies, but one position that can, and often does, excel as a rookie is running back, if the guy has talent...and Jahvid Best certainly does. When you figure in how much experience, versatility and depth we have with Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, and Aaron Brown, our running position should certainly be considered above-average compared to the league. I would even call it "loaded".
Felton might be a slightly better ballcarrier than a blocking fullback, but I am hopeful his performance will benefit from the rising talent level all around him and he can be at least an average blocker for our running backs this year.
Kyle Vanden Bosch - above-average starting DE. Not as great as he once was, but I think he'd be the starter on at least half the teams in the league, and should benefit greatly from having good DT's next to him.
Jason Hunter, Cliff Avril - good enough to start for this team at LE or rotate at either position, but I still think we could upgrade this position. Avril needs to live up to his talent. below-average.
Corey Williams - two consecutive 7-sack seasons the last time he was allowed to play DT in a 4-3. Now, he's back to playing DT in a 4-3. above-average.
Ndamukong Suh - even though he's just a rookie, he should be a very good DT right away. The sky is the limit with his talent and work ethic. Even as a rookie, he should be at least above average for an NFL defensive tackle.
Julian Peterson - He's getting up there in years, and I'll freely admit he's not the 5x Pro Bowler player he once was, but he's still a solid experienced OLB and should be at least average on this defense this year.
Deandre Levy really showed promise as a rookie. The coaches have a lot of faith that he's our MLB of the future, and I think they're right. He's no longer a rookie, and I think it's reasonable to expect above-average starting performance from Levy, especially considering the talent at DT playing in front of him..
Zack Follet / Jordon Dizon - I'm not sure either of these guys has the tools to be a complete, starting, every-down OLB at this point, but I wouldn't rule it out. Hopefully coach Gun can light a fire here and between the two of these guys. But I'm not convinced quite yet we can expect a consistent starting-quality performance at the position. below-average.
Louis Delmas - one of the best young safeties in the league. above-average certainly.
Daniel Bullocks, Ko Simpson - I'm really concerned that we don't have enough talent or health here to put a quality starting safety opposite Delmas. Hopefully Bullocks can prove me wrong and look more like a former second-round pick than a former second round Millen pick. below-average.
As a former second-round pick, Chris Houston is talented, but it doesn't seem like any Atlanta fans can say he lived up to it. I'm not sure what we'll get out of Jonathan Wade either. Amari Spievey is just a rookie this year. Our starting CB's could completely surprise, but I wouldn't bet on it. below-average. below-average.
K - Hanson above-average
P - Harris average
KR/PR - not sure who the return man will be. Based on recent history I'll have to assume below-average until somebody steps up (Brown? Williams? Toone?)
So, by my koolaid-stained count, that's seven above-average offensive starting positions, four average starters, and no real holes (!) barring injury. On defense, I see five above-average, five below average, one average. Special teams one, one and one.
If, compared to the rest of the NFL, we have an above-average offense, and a merely average defense and special teams, and we're not dependent on any really old and/or washed-up guys (Grady Jackson, Daunte Culpepper) to start, nor are we relying heavily on big contributions from any of our rookies except the first-round talents Suh and Best, what does that indicate?
Sure, we could suffer injuries, so could any team. But, on paper, aren't we an above-average team? We're not heavily dependent on rookies or cast-offs like we were last year. We have experienced, talented starters at most positions, and no gaping holes, except possibly in the secondary. And there are some positions where we are very, very strong.
I don't think it's crazy to suggest we have a good shot at a winning season this year. The 1-15 Miami Dolphins from 2007 went 11-5 in 2008. If they can get a 10-win jump in one offseason, why can't we get a 8-win jump from 2-14 to 10-6?