Maybe the title is a bit misleading. I mean, does anyone feel anything other than pity for Detroit? The Vikings have been rivals of the Bears, Packers, and Lions my entire life, yet I don't have a natural dislike or hatred for the Lions that I do the Bears and Packers. They haven't had a winning record since 2000, haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, and last won a playoff game when President Bush was in office. That would be George HW Bush, and the year was 1991. Before that win, they last won a playoff game in...and I'm not kidding...1957. Before the Vikings even existed. Holy and crap. Show of hands when you look through the VIkings schedule and mentally check off two wins for Detroit games. Yeah, that's what I thought. Me too. Well, Viking fans, it may not reflect in the record just yet, but Jim Schwartz and company have started to put the NFL version of the Titanic in reverse, and are moving away from the iceberg.
The Lions seemingly have a top five or ten draft pick every year, and every year we get to laugh at whoever it is they whiff on, be it Joey Harrington or one of the 46 wide receivers they drafted this last decade. Well, they aren't whiffing anymore. Their last three top picks have been WR Calvin Johnson, T Gosder Cherilous, and QB Matthew Stafford. All three will be cornerstone players for them for at least the next decade. Johnson is developing into a beast as a WR, Cherilous a good LT, essential for developing a good offensive line, and Matthew Stafford may be the most impressive of them all. Why do I think this? Look at this video. It's inspiring as hell. Now, look at this video. Tell me, who would YOU want to play for? I would bust my ass for Matthew Stafford, and that is the kind of attitude teammates love, and it's also the kind that makes players around him better. Stafford has what my old coach called 'want to', and that, my friends, is something you can't teach.
The Lions also have a good coach in Jim Schwartz, and most importantly, they DON'T have Matt Millen to screw up their drafts. Schwartz oversaw their 2009 draft, which landed a bevy of potentially great players. Matthew Stafford was drafted first overall, and TE Brandon Pettigrew (also a first round pick with Stafford), DB Louis Delmas, and LB DeAndre Levy were also high round draft picks that have paid off early. You could make an argument for Delmas as defensive rookie of the year had he played on any team other than Detroit.
Schwartz also has the #2 pick in the draft this year, and signs seem to indicate they are leaning towards one of two premier DT prospects in Ndamakung Suh or Gerald McCoy, as they have signed veteran DE Kyle Van den Bosch and DT Corey Williams in free agency, presumably to help mentor and develop McCoy or Suh, either of which has the potential to terrorize NFC North quarterbacks for a decade. Assuming they do draft one of the two DT's, the Lions now will have a legitimate defensive line, capable of disrupting the run and rushing the passer. They also went out and got WR Nate Burleson. They paid a lot of money for him, but they want him to reprise his support role he had opposite Randy Moss in 2004 for Calvin Johnson in 2010. Burleson was an exceptional #2 guy in Minnesota, but floundered as a #1 in Seattle, who ended up signing TJ Whosyourmomma to become their #1 guy last year. Ironically, Burleson had his best season since 2004. With Johnson, Burleson, and Pettigrew to throw to, look for Stafford to have a pretty good year.
The Lions still need a lot of help, both on offense and defense, so I don't want to give the impression that this is a team a move or two from the playoffs. It's not. They still need help on the offensive line, running back, cornerback, linebacker, and depth all around. But this IS a team on the cusp of respectability, and there are two things I am sure of:
1) Schwartz and the front office are moving this team in the right direction.
2) As a Vikings fan, I miss Matt Millen.