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Introduction to the Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson Jr. could be the best wide receiver to play the game ever

Sports are cruel and in the NFL it's no different. For every great team there is an equally abysmal one. Unfortunately for Detroit Lion fans their team has been abysmal more often than not. Widely considered one of the most unsuccessful franchises in all of sports, the Lions have endured decades of mediocrity since their heyday of the 1950's. The Detroit Lions have only ever won their division three times in 47 years, haven't won a playoff game in 21 seasons and are the only team in history to complete a regular season without winning a game, finishing the 2008 campaign with a 0-16 record. There is no doubt that it has been tough for Lions fans recently. Even one of the greatest running backs of all time, Hall of Famer Barry Saunders, couldn't elevate the Lions to anything beyond playoff appearances through the nineties. Despite Saunders skill and tenacity he could never capture that elusive playoff victory. The winds of change have been blowing in Michigan and for Lions fans there are finally some reasons to optimistic. This could be the moment that the Lions rewrite their history and start a new chapter of success in the story of the franchise. This year the team is playing well and eight games into the season they have won five and lost three, good enough to sit atop the NFC North, one of the most competitive and successful divisions in the league.  A large part of this has to do with a change in management within the Lions franchise. Martin Mayhew took over as general manager in 2009 and has slowly built a solid team with shrewd drafts and trades. The franchise also hired head coach Jim Schwartz the same year. Schwartz has had mixed success with the Lions, guiding them to the playoffs one year but failing to achieve a winning record every other year. For Schwartz and the Lions though this could be their year. Recently it seems that every year critics and fans alike predict the Lions will finally execute what they're capable of and not only make the playoffs but win a post season clash or two. This year the Lions are off to a good start, but the Lions were in a similar situation last year where they started 4 and 4 but then lost their last 8 games. Keeping the momentum will be imperative for the Lions this year and they will need to get every win they can get. 

A Money Connection

Momentum will not be a problem for the Lions all-star wide receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson Jr. Considered by many to be the best receiver in the game, Megatron is coming off a career game where he torched the Dallas Cowboys catching 14 passes for one touchdown and an absurd 329 yards, good for the second highest total in history. This game has solidified what many had begun to consider, that Johnson has the ability to become the greatest wide receiver in history. Blessed with immense natural gifts, Johnson Jr. stands 6 ft. 5 and weighs in at 236 lbs. and compliments this with great speed. He is also a physical player who can make incredible catches in double and sometimes triple coverage. What makes Megatron so impressive is his desire to improve as he consistently works on his game to become a better player.  Recently he has significantly improved his inside play so he can help his team move the chains as well as be a premier deep ball threat. Having broken the all-time single season receiving yardage last year Calvin is on pace for another monster year and is integral to Detroit's success going forward. Johnson's partner in crime is quarterback Matthew Stafford who joined Megatron and the Lions in 2009. Stafford developed an instant chemistry with his talented receiver and it has blossomed into one of the most fearsome connections in the league. Stafford is one of only four quarterbacks who have thrown for 5000+ yards in a season and holds the record for pass attempts in a single season with 727 last year. The Lions are happy to trust their offense in the arm of Stafford as the former number one overall pick continues to improve as he evolves into a true franchise player. Injuries were an issue for Stafford at the start of his NFL career but he has since completed two full seasons and both he and the Lions will be hoping this trend continues.

Offseason Upgrading

Though Stafford has proved he is capable of being trusted to throw the ball so often, the absence of a legitimate running game last year ultimately hurt the Lions team. This issue was addressed with off season acquisition Reggie Bush. Bush was one of the most hyped athletes coming out of college, leaving USC with a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy. Drafted second overall in 2008 there was high expectations on Bush immediately. Though Reggie has made one All Pro team, he has largely failed to live up to his lofty draft status having never replicated the kind of production he was known for at the college level. At the Lions though Bush looks to be having a renaissance year as he looks on track to break his season best totals in yards and touchdowns. Bush's biggest asset is his ability to be both a threat in the run game, as well as the passing game. Adept at catching the ball and running routes Bush has the potential to be one of the best multipurpose backs and the Lions offensive style seems to compliment Bush's skill set perfectly. The results have been clear to see as the Lions offense has become multi-dimensional and more potent as a result.

An Imposing Pair

If the Lions offense intimidates opposing teams wait until they meet some of their defensive stars. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is one of the imposing players in the NFL today. Having been fined four times for unwarranted aggression he tops the fined charts with over $200,000 worth of fines levied against him. Suh however thrives on this persona and is one of the most feared and respected defensive tackles in the league. A threat in both phases of offense he has the power and quickness to make plays in both the run game and passing game. Though slightly undersized for a defensive tackle Suh uses his instincts to make plays and is relentless when chasing the ball. A player that always tries to hit the quarterback if possible, he has delivered some punishing hits to some of the NFL's best talent. Having recaptured his All Pro form last year Suh is once again off to a great start and is the player to watch for the Lions defense. Though Suh incurs the wrath of the league and fans alike, fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley is also hard to miss. Fairley made a lot of noise earlier this year boasting that he and Suh are the best defensive tackle combo in the league. If Fairley can replicate his production from the end of last season it will be very hard to argue against him. Though undersized like Suh, Fairley possesses surprising agility and quickness for such a large guy and he exploits this to make an impact no matter the offense opponents run. Injuries have unfortunately hampered Fairley's young career and staying healthy will be his main concern. If he can emulate teammate Matt Stafford and not only stay healthy but also take his game to the next level, it could prove to make the Lions a very dangerous team.

Time To Execute

The Lions sit 5 and 3 after eight games and have just completed their bye week. They are no doubt feeling pretty happy about how the season has started as they sit atop the NFC North. Keeping this form going after the break will be key to the Lions success if they hope to make the playoffs again this year. The division, as always, is tough. The Green Bay Packers are favourites to not only win the division but the entire NFC and have already beaten the Lions in Wisconsin. The Lions offense was unusually tame against the Packers, mainly attributed to the fact that Calvin Johnson was out with injury. His absence was sorely felt as the Lions were held to their worst point's total of the season. Look for the rematch in Michigan to be a higher octane affair with two impressive offenses squaring off. The Chicago Bears have the same record Lions at the moment having already had their bye week. Seizing the opportunity to tie the Lions last week means beating the Bears will be paramount to the Lions success this year. The Bears have flashed brilliance this year but have also been inconsistent at times and injuries to key players have weakened them somewhat recently. Look for the Lions to capitalise when they travel to Illinois in two weeks. The Minnesota Vikings round out the division and are the weakest this year by far. Mired in a quarterback controversy the Vikings are a shadow of the team that made the playoffs last year. The Lions already lead the Vikings this year with a victory on opening weak but they will need to secure the sweep if they want to progress as a team. Detroit has always found a way to shoot itself in the foot and losing to a Vikings side in disarray would be proof that the team still has work to do. The outlook however is good, with Megatron you have a guaranteed Hall of Fame player but in the past, as was the case with Saunders,  while Megatron put up great numbers the Lions still lost. This year the Lions are winning and that will be the key factor that Schwartz will try to hone in on as crunch time rapidly approaches for the Detroit Lions.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz

Super Bowl Appearances:  None

Division: NFC North

Biggest Rivalries: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings

Jersey to buy: #81 WR Calvin Johnson Jr., #9 QB Matthew Stafford, #21 RB Reggie Bush, #90 DT Ndamukong Suh, #98 DT Nick Fairley