Who will have a season worth remembering?
It’s time for another anniversary. A couple of months ago, I wrote about my own anniversary, my fifth year with my wife, which was a joyous albeit subdued occasion. If I remember correctly, we ordered pizza and watched Netflix. Yep, it was that wild of a night.
Anniversaries can also be dates or years that you would rather forget and I think most of us have had those at one point, whether it be sports-related or just in our everyday lives.
With both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions kicking off their preseason schedule the past few days, I thought this would be a perfect time to look back on those special occasions.
One fan base will be probably be looking back at their history fondly during this column, while the other probably wishes a certain year never happened.
Let’s start off on a positive note, though, and go with the Green Bay Packers. This season marks the 100th season of the Packers as a franchise, and even if you aren’t a rabid Packer backer, you have to admit this is quite an achievement.
A lot of teams die out shortly after they’re created (just look at the XFL), but Green Bay’s has managed to stand the test of time.
It seems a bit odd that a city the size of Green Bay, whose population is just a scratch over 100,000, could maintain a professional franchise that long, but the passions run deep there as I found out during my trek to the land of Mordor last October.
There have been many Green Bay legends over the past century, many of whom have streets named after them in town, and I’m sure that Packers fans would have a difficult time choosing the four people they would like to see on their own Mount Rushmore (or Mount Lambeau if you will).
For me, I’d put up Green Bay’s two most famous coaches, Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi, along with Brett Favre and Ray Nitschke. I know some Packers fans may still see Favre as a traitor, but he brought the Packers back to relevance after a dark stretch during the 1970s and ’80s. You have to give him credit for that and there were more positive moments than negative when it came to Favre.
Speaking of negatives, let’s turn to the Lions, who uniquely held a pretty impressive honor until last season. Ten years ago, Detroit became the first NFL franchise to go 0-16, a feat matched by the Cleveland Browns just last season.
How bad was 2008 for Detroit? Even if you take away the lack of wins, the Lions gave up 517 points that season, just shy of the NFL record of 533. Detroit also signed quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who by that point was far past his prime, in a weak attempt to turn the season around.
If there is one play that sums up that season, it happened at the Metrodome in Minnesota. In Week 6, quarterback Dan Orlovsky was chased into the end zone and while scrambling away, he accidentally stepped out of the back of the end zone.
Orlovsky didn’t just step out slightly either, he ran a few steps out of the end zone before realizing what had happened.
What makes that moment even sadder? That was the Lions’ closest game of the year and the Vikings ended up winning by two points.
In a season filled with depressing moments, there was one positive that came out of all that and that was Matt Millen being fired as general manager. So that’s something, I guess.
This will be an historic year for both teams, but how will they commemorate the occasion? By going in the opposite directions, I foresee.
The Packers, after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, are the preseason pick by many to win the NFC North. I can understand that argument as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is back under center, which almost guarantees them at least a .500 record.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is finally gone with Mike Pettine taking over, and the front office also looks different with longtime general manager Ted Thompson being replaced by Brian Gutekunst.
Green Bay also appears to be faster at cornerback and in the secondary, so things appear to be looking good for another trip to the playoffs.
I don’t see it, though. They’ve got some good free-agent pickups with tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive players Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams, but the Packers still have flaws.
The most glaring is their lack of a pass rush, which will put a lot of pressure on the secondary, which although better, isn’t stupendous. If Green Bay can’t get to the quarterback consistently, good opposing QBs could have field days this fall.
That’s a big problem when two of them are in the division in the Lions’ Matthew Stafford and Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins.
The biggest factor, just like last year, is Rodgers. If he goes down again, the Packers will once again have to turn to Brett Hundley or even to former 2017 Browns’ signal caller DeShone Kizer. I’m sure Green Bay fans are shuddering at that thought.
Meanwhile in Detroit, Lions fans shouldn’t be shuddering at all. Detroit is a good team this year and it still has one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Stafford.
He’s excelled under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and his completion percentage last year was the second best of his career. Stafford also notched the highest passer rating as a Lion last year.
If he can put up the same numbers or even better, the Lions will be in contention. The offensive line also appears a lot more stable and I’d say the Lions have a better receiving corps than the Packers, headlined by Golden Tate.
Detroit also has something that Green Bay doesn’t — a legitimate running game. They drafted a solid back in Kerryon Johnson, return Theo Riddick and brought in LeGarrette Blount from New England. The Lions may not have a Barry Sanders-caliber runner, but they’ve got a good group that can take some of the pressure off of Stafford.
While Rodgers may be the No. 1 factor for Green Bay, the Lions’ is new head coach Matt Patricia. He comes in as a defensive guru and it will be interesting to see what he can get out of the “D” during his first year at the helm.
All things considered, I think Detroit gets the final wild card spot in the NFC and Green Bay comes one game short with the Lions beating the Packers at Lambeau (what?!) the last week of the regular season.
So the Packers will commemorate their 100th season by missing the playoffs, which I’m sure will disappoint their fans, but in the end won’t matter too much considering their storied history.
Meanwhile, the Lions will finally top the Packers in something significant after getting dealt so many setbacks in the past.
In a year where they’ll want to forget the past, Lions fans will have a season to remember and that will one day become a nice anniversary.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.