When you're wrong, you’re wrong. That's how I felt after the Lions finished their 2016 campaign. No, I wasn’t wrong about how the Lions would finish the season. I actually pegged them to go 9-7 or 10-6 and make the playoffs, if I can toot my own horn for a moment.
What I was wrong about, was how the country would perceive the Lions. One of the last pieces I wrote while at SideLion Report, was called The Detroit Lions are no longer marketable. This, of course, was a piece for which I got a lot of heat
The theory of the piece was that the average football fan had no reason to watch the Lions. This was all based off the Lions’ schedule release, when we came to find out the Lions had received only one primetime, nationally televised game for the season.
In my opinion, it was because at the the time, what were the Lions? They were a team that had just lost their major draw in Calvin Johnson. They were coming off a losing season and, as usual, everyone was pretty unsure of Matthew Stafford. Given those reasons, what made them marketable?
What I didn't factor in was the fact that the Lions are a really fun team to watch. With all the fourth quarter comebacks, the theme surrounding the 2016 Lions was that of “you never know what can happen.” And let’s not forget that Matthew Stafford ended up becoming one of the league’s most exciting quarterbacks in 2016.
How bad did I miss? Well for starters, that one prime time game the Lions got, became the most watched Monday night football game in over two years. Second off, when the NFL was experiencing lower ratings and the sports world was being irrational about it, the Lions were one of the teams that were less affected by the issue than most.
As Justin Rogers of the Detroit News wrote, “Whatever the reasons may be, the ratings decline hasn’t hit as strongly locally. Through five weeks, FOX is reporting 15.0 ratings for Lions games in the metro-Detroit market, down just 3.2 percent from the year before.”
This was early on in the season, as well. The Lions had high ratings in the aforementioned Monday night game, as well as Thanksgiving and playoffs. And because of this, and because of the implications of the game, the Lions had their final game of the season flexed into a primetime slot.
This is a trend I believe will continue. Not just the ratings, but the primetime slots. In a suddenly uncertain NFL world, the Lions have somehow become a favorite of many.
The Lions made some quiet, but highly-praised moves this offseason to bolster their offensive line. If they draft a high profile running back or receiver—or have a successful draft at all—they will only make themselves even more exciting. Especially on the offensive side, where the Lions could very well boast one of the league’s most dangerous units in 2017.
This will only make the Lions prosper in the perception of fans and analyst. There was a time you could turn on the TV and hear nothing about the Lions. Nothing other than “they’re going to lose.” Now you can turn it on and hear the rave reviews of Matthew Stafford’s work, or how well the Lions have been doing this offseason.
There’s even crazy things like “how close are the Lions to being Super Bowl contenders?” Or not-so-crazy things like “can the Lions win the NFC North?” In some cases it's not a question, they're actually being picked to hit these milestones.
It’s a landscape many have not ever seen in their time cheering for this team. They like them, they really like them. I'm guessing they will continue to like them.
It really all has to come down to the question of can this team improve upon last year? Can Matthew Stafford, who is likely about to be the highest paid quarterback in the league, continue his rise into the world of elite quarterbacks?
In the end, it won't matter come schedule time. I think NFL is going to bet on the Lions. My guess is they will wind up being happy they did.
The Lions aren’t totally out of the woods yet, though. They can’t be put into the same category as the Cowboys or the Patriots. Things like jersey sales, for example, show that the Lions are far from mega popular with football fans. The Lions went through year without having a players jersey sold in the 50. Now that Calvin Johnson is retired, it could be a while before they get back in this list.
The Lions do have a ways to go to get to the top of this mountain, but they are making good time. Perhaps the best time they’ve made since the Barry Sanders era.