I know what you’re thinking. “The best 0-7 team? Yeah, that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee.” Well I say you take that dollar, buy that coffee and then dump it on your head. I’m trying to make a point. Just let me do it.
The Detroit Lions aren’t winning games and it sucks, right? But what doesn’t suck is the Lions developing more and more every week. Every week you see a new rookie or young player getting better. Jerry Jacobs, an undrafted rookie corner thrusted into playing time, has stepped up every week and, despite some rookie mistakes, he’s handling his business.
Same thing with AJ Parker. If you would have asked me if this guy would be anything better than a practice squad player this summer, I would have told you, “No way.” Parker—another undrafted guy, by the way—has shown that he can be a long-term starting nickel in this league.
You also see some of the guys who have been around for a while show that they can continue to get better and better. De’Andre Swift looks like he’s a healthy offensive line away from being one of the best running backs in the league. Tracy Walker has improved so much after a down year that he’s suddenly one of the best safeties in the NFL.
Outside of player development, the Lions are learning as team in real time. They’re still making mistakes weekly, but they’re not making the same ones over and over again. That says a lot about coaching. This team wants to learn, and they’re not stubborn like the previous regime. Matt Patricia would run the same mistake over and over again because he was certain his plan was infallible and would eventually work. It never did.
And so while the Lions aren’t getting wins, they’re showing promise. This is a team that has good player development, they’re learning from their mistakes, and at this point, they have a a lot of good draft picks in the next two years. They’ll also have plenty of money to spend in free agency.
It may not feel like it, but this team is so much closer than you think. The next few years could be very fun.
Oh, and if you think the statement that this is the best 0-7 team ever, last week, Football Outsiders claimed the Lions to be one of the best 0-6 teams ever (or at least as far back as their data goes—1983):
The Lions are not as horrible as you think! They’ve played a tough schedule, fourth in the league so far. They’ve also had those two games where they lost on long field goals at the end of regulation against the Ravens and the Vikings.
It turns out the Lions are one of the better 0-6 teams in DVOA history.
Why it’s an overreaction
I hate to do it, but the flip side of the coin here is simply saying that the Lions are 0-7 for a reason. They have some real trouble areas that could hold their progression back. Jared Goff immediately comes to mind. The quarterback is an important part of any football team, and Goff’s struggles are obvious and apparent. There’s a very good chance the Lions draft a quarterback in April, and if you’re watching this year’s class of rookie quarterback in the NFL, you can see that rookie seasons are tough for quarterbacks, even for a draft class hailed as impressive as this one. Next year’s class is considered significantly worse, too. That could put a damper on this team’s ability to make a Year 2 jump under Dan Campbell.
They also need to rehab their receiving corps and find out what the future holds for this offensive line. Who’s playing left tackle for this team in 2022? Will it be Taylor Decker? More than likely yes, but Penei Sewell continues to impress more often than he doesn't.
Lastly, we mentioned the Lions have money. Well they’re going to have to spend that money on guys that are already on this team. Tracy Walker will be a free agent after this season and the Lions are going to need to spend to lock him down. T.J. Hockenson will also need to collect soon. His contract is up after 2022, and the Lions may have to make him the highest-paid tight end to keep him.
So while I think the Lions are on totally on the right path and that everything is still on schedule, it won’t be easy to maintain that course. The Lions are going to have to take care of these issues before they go from being the young team with a ton of potential to the team that could never realize that potential.