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COLUMN

Are the Detroit Lions the new Colts?

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For more on the NFL, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1.

Stafford leads dynamic offense

Saturday, January 7, 2012 - 10:24 pm

I don't know how anyone concentrates today, knowing the Detroit Lions have a playoff game. I'm pretty sure the Maya predicted this event as one sign of the world's 2012 end.

With the exception of the Indianapolis Colts, who took the season off for good Luck, this year's playoffs have everything we could want. There's a powerful defending Super Bowl champion in the Green Bay Packers. There's an upstart reborn franchise in the San Francisco 49ers. There are superstar quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. There's even a Manning (Eli).

None of that compares to the sight of the Lions.

Seeing the Lions in the playoffs is like witnessing Haley's Comet. Better look now; it could be another 75 years before it happens again.

The Lions are playing the Brees-led Saints on Saturday night, so many believe it could indeed be a meteoric appearance.

Or maybe 2012 is the end of the NFL world as we know it.

Maybe the Lions are here to stay. In fact, the Lions just might be the new Colts. I won't say the Lions are a new-and-improved version of the Colts – they'll need a decade of playoff berths or a couple Super Bowls for that claim – but they could be the next evolution.

Like the Colts first built around Peyton Manning, the Lions have a young quarterback with a seemingly limitless future in Matthew Stafford. His numbers in this, the undisputed year of the quarterback (sans Peyton), were phenomenal: 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns. He's one of four quarterbacks in NFL history with 5,000 yards, joining Dan Marino and two other guys who did it this year in Brees and Brady.

Stafford threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers in the regular-season finale. I know the Packers rested some players and their defense reminds no one of the '85 Bears, but 520 yards? I didn't even know NFL games could last long enough for 520 yards.

Like Manning with Marvin Harrison, Stafford has a superstar receiver in Calvin Johnson. But where Harrison was a diminutive and silent star, Johnson is “Megatron.” He's the prototype wide receiver turned up to 11. He's big, he's bold. I don't know how Stafford resists throwing jump balls to him on every other play.

Manning cultivated other receivers over the years, most notably Reggie Wayne, but also guys like Brandon Stokley, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. So, too, does Stafford have his other options in tight end Brandon Pettigrew and receivers Nate Burleson and Titus Young.

If the Lions get running back Jahvid Best back next season, perhaps he can become a reasonable facsimile of Edgerrin James.

The Colts' defense has been questionable over the years, but not without superstars in Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and – when quad willing – Bob Sanders.

Look, then, to the Lions' Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and Nick Fairley. Big-play potential personified.

My comparison derails a bit when it comes to vintage Colts coach Tony Dungy and current Lions coach Jim Schwartz. They're opposites, with Dungy the calm, collected voice of reason and Schwartz an occasionally restrained maniac. Dungy's personality is a Jedi mind trick. Schwartz's personality is a Suh stomp.

So that brings us to tonight, when the Lions meet the Saints in their first playoff game since 1999. Should they even be given a chance? Brees' play over the last few weeks of the season was as dominating as any quarterback anytime. I don't see the Lions stopping him.

But, these Lions could go indoors and engage in a shootout like none other. Every year, some wild-card team seems to catch fire, gain momentum and turn the NFL conventional wisdom on its head.

If the world is to end in 2012, it'd be fitting to go out with turned-loose Lions and fireworks. If it doesn't end, perhaps a new world where the Lions are slowly moving to the top of the NFL food chain is earth-shattering enough.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com