1. A Quarterback heading into his second year-There's no denying, we are almost certainly going to find out if Stafford is going to make it next season. Kurt Warner non-withstanding, almost to a rule the really good to great QBs take there first large step forward in their second season by making better decisions, cutting down on turnovers, and at least slightly increasing their yardage. So we should have an idea whether Matt Stafford is the real deal and if so we will take a large (not a small) step forward.
We've been burned before...yeah, there's no denying that. There was the "Tampa Two" (which at the time was *the* system) and "Greatest Show on Turf" reboot (oh, how little we knew), before that there was the "The Joey Harrington to Charles Rogers in the West Coast Offense" reboot. And even all the false promise of the Wayne Fontes era (which at least had highlights). But there are some reasons to be optimistic about this upcoming season...ten of them in fact.
2. A New secondary-Facing facts, the people that stayed healthy enough to start more than 5 games (with the exception of Louis Delmas) didn't play well (Ko Simpson was "okay" but suffered a serious injury) with Anthony Henry looking washed up, Philip Buchanon was only effective in somehow getting people here to believe that he got a raw deal (while washing out of his fourth franchise), and James proving to be a good back-up being forced to start. With the drafting of Spievey, and the signings of Chris Houston, Jonathon Wade, Dre Bly, and Dante Wesley (and an Eric King back from an injury that basically whiped out his 2009 season) we only need to hit on 2 of the newcomers (or in the case of King, basically new comers) to have a decent secondary.
Also, while everyone is kind of blah about him, I really liked what I saw of Amari Spievey in college at Iowa, basically feeling about him in college the same way I remember feeling when watching Levy play LB at Wisconsin (that they were underhyped steal types...and both predraft guides I read ranked Spievey over Devin McCourty who went well before him, for what that's worth).
3. An Offense that should be loaded with weapons-In addition to the justifiably lauded signing of Nate Burleson and drafting of Jahvid Best we also have the return from injury of RB Kevin Smith (who went from overhyped after a decent year in '08 to overly maligned after a season that he played almost the entire year with a serious shoulder injury) and TE Brandon Pettigrew. This doesn't even get into the signing of Tony Scheffler and G Rob Sims (who'll improve the O-Line). And that doesn't even get into having Megatron back completely heatlhy and with a roster full of weapons you always have a chance (especially if anything resembling Point #1 happens)...and Matt Stafford definitely has every opportunity to do well next season.
4. A Defensive Line that has both talent *and* some depth-It says something about the increased depth/talent that Jared DeVries, our starter from 06-08 (basically), will likely be third on the depth chart (behind the starters of Vanden Bosch, the winner of Jason Hunter/Cliff Avril starting battle, and the loser of the Avril/Hunter battle), toss in the Suh/Williams/Lee HIll rotation at DT and...we can actually substitute.
Further, because DL is something that depends on things like match-ups, attacking, and knowing how to read plays, this is less apt to require coordination between members the way that OL or even the secondary does so the capability of starting off well at this position group is fairly high.
5. The team plays together-With the exception of Dre Bly (and I'm more concerned about the incident between him and Singletary last season rather than his comments the last time he was a Lion...as I feel he was 100% right to make those comments as neither the coaching staff nor the front office was going to address Harrington's incompetence unless called out) the current Lions team is mostly a high character bunch with a number of leaders among the group such as Kyle Vanden Bosch (and Louis Delmas being a budding leader already).
6. Teams that we should win games against happening at key stretches-The schedule is tough, no doubt about that, but there are very winnable games that occur sprinkled throughout the schedule (with the Rams at week 5, possibly the Skins at week 7, the Bills at week 10, etc.), which could prevent the long runs of losses that have been a regular feature of Lions football (even the 7-9 2007 Season ended on losing 7 of 8).
7. If Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz successfully change the culture-I'm not saying its going to happen but Mayhew and Schwartz made the right move to turnover the roster and bring in high character young players combined with veteran leadership. This might change the Lions tendency to fold regularly in close games (for instance, during 0-16, both Vikings games were very winnable). If this happens expect at least 2 wins that we didn't expect to have happen (last year we won the Browns game, but we should have won Seattle and St. Louis) which hasn't happened previously.
8. Improved Special Teams Play-Insert random "Stan Kwan sucked" comment :). But in addition to the coaching change, the new coach should have a healthy Jason Hansen (who, if memory serves, had some type of leg surgery before last season and was never really healthy). Field position is important and if we improve this (which we should, as in addition to a new coach we have also signed some vets with a history of doing well in coverage) we take a big step forward. And Nate Burleson has punt return experience (please, oh, please could we have a return game at least 2/3s as good as when we had the Mel Gray/Glynn Milburn/Desmond Howard/Eddie Durmond run of returners).
9. NFL History-Generally speaking, when a team improves from a doormat to good, nobody really expects. The NFL is different from both baseball and basketball in that you generally don't see incremental improvement to good, it either happens all at once or not at all. When this type of improvement happens in the NFL it generally comes from one of two things: 1. Bringing in a bunch of veterans that all play well at once for a surprisingly quick change (less common since the salary cap) or 2. A bunch of young players who surprise by playing to their potential quickly at roughly the same time. While we don't have a large number of veterans, we do have a surprising number of players who've played less than 4 seasons in the leaque at this point.so we have the ingredients for the second scenario.
10. Renewed optimism among the fan base-Everyone can mock the "Kool-Aid drinkers" all we want but it plays a huge role. Some franchises have had such a gloom descend on them that they view nothing as positive and that effects them (for instance, in basketball, the LA Clippers will never have a sustained period of even being decent, the darkness over that franchise won't be dispelled for 30 years). There probably will be more of a home presence than the team has had in several seasons (maybe since Gary Moeller had the team on the brink of a play-off spot as an interim coach), which is important, even if only slightly.
Are these 10 locks to happen? No (except for the special teams play, I'm fairly certain that comes around), but we do have factors that indicate hope that aren't thought about often.