Friday, May 25, 2007

Durbin is Dealin'

In case you didn’t know—because I certainly didn’t—Chad Durbin can deal. After three starts and a 10.53 ERA to begin the season, I started to think that Durbin might be the worst pitcher I’ve ever seen. If this was the guy keeping Andrew Miller in the minors, then going with a four-man rotation until Miller is ready or Rogers returns seemed to be more than a reasonable thought back in April. Thankfully, three starts do not make a season. It seems like anytime a Tigers pitcher has difficulties in their approach, the problems are inevitably corrected by a conversation with Kenny Rogers. So it stands to reason that Durbin’s resurgence can be attributed to just that.

Durbin is 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA over his last six starts and hasn’t given up more than three runs in any of them. He is not a fire-baller like Justin Verlander or Jeremy Bonderman. He eats at the corners and changes speeds like Rogers. Much is made of the need for a pitcher to “know how” to pitch. I think something clicked in that conversation with Rogers because Durbin has been in control ever since. Durbin had been atrocious in his previous 337 innings in MLB with an ERA approaching 6.00 so I don’t think his success has anything in common with Zach Miner’s success last season. Miner was a new face who took some getting used to. Once the league got a feel for Miner’s style, he got smoked. Durbin has already been tatooed by the league so I don’t think any newfound success can be attributed to a fluke or unfamiliarity. He is seeing results because he is pitching better.

While Durbin is making Tigers fans happy in the interim, he will be the focus of much speculation come June. With Rogers expected to return, Durbin’s status in the rotation becomes murky. Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson, and Rogers are not going anywhere. Mike Maroth, however, is another story. Durbin has given the Tigers a much better chance of winning than Maroth. Maroth’s ERA is close to 5.00 and his WHIP is atrociously high at 1.64. I understand that Maroth is going through an adjustment period after missing most of last season with arm troubles. It would be unfair to judge his place in the rotation on just a few starts. Durbin turned things around drastically and Maroth could do the same. However, if Durbin continues to out-pitch Maroth through June, the Tigers will have to consider who gives the team the best chance to win. Not only do I think that Durbin gives the team a better chance of winning at this point but I think Andrew Miller does as well. If Maroth isn’t even the second best option to be the 5th man in the rotation the Tigers can’t afford to keep him there.

Even if Maroth does turn things around, Durbin still has relevancy for the Tigers. He could allow the Tigers to go to a six-man rotation in September. That would allow the power pitchers to be at full rest for the playoff push and preserve their arms for the playoffs. Durbin is not like Miller or any of the other top pitching prospects in the organization. He is pushing 30 and has had almost zero previous success. It is doubtful that the Tigers will ever be able to trade Durbin. Since the Tigers would never get fair value in return, his future is in a Tigers uniform. In the event that Rogers returns as expected and Maroth bounces back, Durbin should provide some depth in the bullpen. He has proved valuable enough that a return to Toledo should not be in the cards unless he returns to his previous form. If anything, Maroth could be another lefty in the bullpen if Durbin beats him out. It’ll be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pistons need to plan for future ASAP

Posting could be light in the near future. I am now the proud parent of child #2. As crazy as it sounds, she will take precedent over the internet. Hopefully I can keep churning out boring ramblings on a semi-regular basis. Speaking of that…

Thankfully, Portland and Seattle were the big winners in the NBA Draft Lottery instead of, say, the Orlando Magic. I guess I should be thanking the Magic for that late season push to make the playoffs. That seems to be the only thing that stops the Magic from winning the lottery. It would have been awfully difficult to see Orlando win the lottery for the fourth time preventing the Pistons from having multiple first-round picks this year and, even more importantly, enabling the Magic to snatch-up Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Portland and Seattle’s good fortune also guarantees that Oden and Durant will be wrecking havoc in the Western Conference and not the Eastern Conference.

Orlando winning the lottery again would have presented an interesting decision for the Magic. Would they have picked Oden to form one of the most promising front courts in NBA history or Kevin Durant to give them a phenomenal inside/outside attack? Dwight Howard isn’t the greatest offensive post presence when he isn’t throwing down killer dunks. The Magic will inevitably need to address the shortfalls that come from having a center that can’t play beyond seven feet. On the other hand, with Durant and Howard, teams would have to “pick their poison”. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision. If I had to choose right now, I’d go with Oden even with a guy like Howard in the fold. I don’t see him being a Sam Bowie-type player. Plus, “smalls” would come flocking to Orlando to play with those two.

The fallout from Portland and Seattle being the big winners in the lottery could have a sizeable effect on the Pistons if they so choose. I am guessing that Portland and Seattle are going to take Oden and Durant respectively. Portland would have Oden to team with Zach Randolph. The Blazers would immediately become a powerhouse team in the Western Conference. Randolph is one of the most underrated post players in the league. With the double-teams that Oden will command, Randolph is going to dominate the league for the next 5-10 years. Hopefully Portland likes that combination enough to avoid taking Durant. If they do, Seattle would take Durant. That is excellent for the Pistons in the sense that Seattle already has Rashard Lewis. They can’t afford to pay both. So Lewis will be looking for a new team this summer. Hopefully the Pistons can somehow take advantage of that situation. Lewis would be a perfect fit for the Pistons. He is an excellent three-point shooter at 6’10. He is a slightly less defensively-abled version of Rasheed Wallace. Although, I think Lewis is much more versatile offensively.

Orlando is supposedly interested in Lewis. The Magic would become one of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference with that acquisition. The Pistons seemingly have a loaded front court but it’s important to remember that Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess are five-years older than Lewis and Chris Webber is six years older than Lewis. Wallace, McDyess, and Webber aren’t going to be impact players in Detroit for much longer than two years. In fact, it’s conceivable that none of those three will even be on the team in two years. The Pistons will be forced to make over the frontcourt in a hurry or risk their status as contenders in the Eastern Conference. Amir Johnson will hopefully be much further along in his development but the Pistons will need more than just Johnson to contend. I don’t believe the Pistons have the financial ability to sign Lewis so they would need to pursue a “sign and trade” with Seattle. An offer of Jason Maxiell, Nazr Mohammed, and the 15th and 27th picks in ’07 could garner interest. Even then, I’m not exactly sure if the Pistons would be able to fit Lewis under the cap. If they can, then pursuing Lewis should be a no-brainer. Once Wallace, McDyess, Dale Davis, and Chris Webber come off the books, the Pistons will be fine financially. On a side note, the Blazers apparently have interest in bringing in Lewis. An Oden/Randolph/Lewis frontcourt would be unstoppable. Since that mayhem would do most of its damage in the Western Conference, I wouldn’t mind seeing it happen.

Since a Lewis/Pistons relationship is likely just a silly dream, I would love to see the Pistons try to dangle their two first-round picks this season and possibly Jason Maxiell for a player of similar stature to Lewis over the next two summers. That won’t be easy. Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol will likely be available this summer but I’m not sure that the Pistons have enough ammunition or willingness to add to the payroll. Regardless of what the Pistons are able to do this summer (in the playoffs and in free agency), they need to start thinking about the future. They have some nice young players—Prince, Maxiell, Johnson, and Carlos Delfino—but none of those players are going to be frontcourt centerpieces. I am of the belief that two first round draft picks are much more valuable before the draft than after the draft. The draft is so unpredictable that you could end up with two “duds” very easily. If Dumars thinks he can find two gems with the 15th and 27th, then I have no problem with the Pistons keeping those picks.

The Pistons are going to have to make a move to bring in an impact player in the near future. They went from being the two-time defending NBA Champions in 1990 to 20-62 just three seasons later because the front office did not plan for the future. It took a decade for the team to rebound. There is no guarantee that free agents will come your way just because it happens to be a year when you have a bunch of money to spend. I’m hoping the Pistons aren’t planning on going for broke in free agency in the summer of ’09. If that’s their plan, then coming up empty will cripple the franchise similar to what happened following the Bad Boy era. Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Prince will keep the team relatively competitive but without a frontcourt similar to the one in Detroit right now, the Pistons will fall to the middle of the pack.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kirk Hinrich is a tool

I normally don’t take satisfaction in ripping into other people but I’ll make an exception with Kirk Hinrich. Before the Pistons/Bulls series started, I actually liked Hinrich. He is an excellent shooter as well as the engine that makes the Bulls somewhat exciting offense go. He is also a solid contributor from the greatest NBA Draft class that ever was. I just never knew he was a tool until this week.

Before I get to the event that prompted this article, I’d like to bring attention to another less obvious reason why Hinrich is a blowhard. One of my most annoying pet peeves in my life (yes, unfortunately and sadly, I did say “life”) is a basketball player who constantly tries throwing himself in front of the dribbler to draw a charge ala every Duke Blue Devil that ever lived. I don’t mind charge calls when the dribbler tries to run through a defender. I don’t mind when the defender braces for a charge if it looks like the dribbler is going to try to run them over. I absolutely cannot stand to see defenders cut off the dribbler by jumping in the way and then get rewarded with an offensive foul call. This is something that Hinrich does often. What’s particularly annoying about this is that referees get manipulated by this tactic. They may recognize it for a silly attempt to draw a foul the first time. But, I have always felt that referees sometimes unconsciously decide whether they’re going to call a charge or a block before the play even happens. I think refs like to call charges when they haven’t been called in a while. I’m not saying that this is how referees operate on every call. I’m just saying that when the crowd gets on the referees for not calling a charge against the road team and the ref hasn’t called a charge in a while, he/she will be more inclined to call a charge.

I saw this happen in Tuesday night’s game. Chauncey Billups tried to dribble around a hounding Hinrich when Hinrich jumped in front of him. The referee correctly called this a block. Later on in the game, a similar play occurred and Hinrich flopped again. I think the ref was waiting to reward Hinrich with a charge call from earlier in the game. There is no question in my mind that the NBA should have “flop” calls in the same way the NHL has “dive” penalties. This would all but eliminate flops all together. I have played enough basketball to know that it takes more than a bump to make a guy go flying ten feet back. Flops make the NBA look bad.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’ll move on to the event that actually prompted this post. Some of you may remember that Hinrich was nice enough to pose for a Flip Murray-poster in Sunday’s game. What you may not know is that Hinrich actually punched Murray in the cojones as he was posing for said poster. I am willing to admit that there is a small percent chance that the video footage makes it look like the punch occurred when in reality it didn’t. However, it looks fairly certain—at least in my mind—that Hinrich punched Murray in a place where you don’t punch a man. I don’t think I really need to explain how cowardly this is because I think most people are already familiar with the indignity involved in such an act. You don’t see that crap in UFC and you don’t see it from any self-respecting man. Hinrich is a tool and now you have the video that proves it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spurs or Suns?

Now that the Pistons have all but dispatched of the Bulls, I don’t think there’s any team in the conference with even a remote chance—barring injury of course—of beating the Pistons in a seven-game series. In fact, Detroit may end up having the easiest Eastern Conference Finals match-up in NBA history. I would normally be the last person to be this presumptuous but only a disaster combined with a total collapse by the Pistons could keep them from reaching the NBA Finals at this point. I am willing to gamble that those two things will not happen. On paper, Detroit should walk all over the Cleveland/New Jersey winner. Stranger things have happened so I won’t even think about pulling out the 0% chance card but Pistons fans have to like their chances of moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals and then to the NBA Finals.

Assuming Detroit finishes off the Cleveland/New Jersey winner, the topic of most interest to Pistons fans right now should be the outcome of the San Antonio/Phoenix series. There is a very, very good chance that the Pistons will be playing the winner of that series in the NBA Finals. It’s not an easy call but I do think one team presents Detroit with a more difficult challenge.

Both the Spurs and Suns will hold home-court advantage over Detroit which automatically makes things doubly difficult. The Pistons have proven that they can win on the road against San Antonio and Phoenix even though it is incredibly difficult to do so. If I had to guess, I would say that Pistons fans are split evenly on which team would give the Pistons a tougher series. I am inclined to go with the San Antonio Spurs. We already know that the Spurs can beat Detroit in a 7-game series. Plus, the Spurs are basically an upgraded version of the Pistons. San Antonio beats Detroit playing Detroit’s game. That is a difficult thing for the Pistons to overcome. Phoenix can’t match Detroit’s physical play but Detroit can do a pretty good imitation of the Suns style of play. Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are as conditioned as any players in the league. Billups has no problems playing physical or running. It’s always better to play a team with a contrasting style than it is to play a team that plays your style only better.

The Pistons, Spurs, and Suns have each managed to keep intact their style of play and continuity of their rosters over the last three years. So, I went through the results over that period to see how Detroit fared against both teams. Here is how things have unfolded:

Detroit vs. Phoenix

A 3/16/2007 W 105-83
H 12/31/2006 L 101-108
H 4/2/2006 W 109-102
A 11/10/2005 W 111-104
A 3/3/2005 L 97-100
H 1/17/2004 W 94-80

Detroit 4-2

Detroit vs. San Antonio

A 3/23/2007 L 89-90
H 2/14/2007 L 81-90
A 1/12/2006 W 83-68
H 12/25/2005 W 85-70
A 6/23/2005 L 74-81
A 6/21/2005 W 95-86
H 6/19/2005 L 96-95
H 6/16/2005 W 102-71
H 6/14/2005 W 96-79
A 6/12/2005 L 76-97
A 6/9/2005 L 69-84
H 3/20/2005 W 110-101
A 12/3/2004 L 77-80

San Antonio 7-6

Obviously, Detroit/San Antonio has a much larger sample size because of their seven-game series in the ’04 NBA Finals. Detroit went 4-2 against Phoenix and 6-7 against San Antonio. Detroit’s average margin of victory against Phoenix was seven points and, despite a losing record against the Spurs, Detroit had an average margin of victory of three against them. It’s also important to note that Detroit was without Billups and Chris Webber in a loss to Phoenix in December. One would have to think that the Pistons would have had a very good chance of winning that home game with the presence of Billups and Webber as well. The Pistons went 2-1 at Phoenix which was considerably better than their 2-5 record at San Antonio.

Considering Detroit had a better won/loss record, a better road record, and a larger margin of victory against Phoenix, one would have to think that the Pistons match-up better against the Suns. Throw in the fact that Detroit has already lost a seven-game series to the Spurs and I’ve become a temporary Suns fan.

Since both teams would have home-court advantage, Detroit would have a tough road to the NBA Championship no matter which team it plays. Detroit would be a heavy underdog to both San Antonio and Phoenix. The Western Conference is considerably better than the Eastern Conference so there will be big-time bias towards the West—and I think their should be. The Spurs and Suns put up gaudy records and have even more roster depth than the Pistons. None of this matters a whole lot since we’ll find out who wins the Spurs/Suns series in a matter of days. It’s just an interesting discussion to have while Detroit finishes mauling the Bulls. Plus, I think that the outcome of that series is huge for Detroit’s chances of winning another NBA Championship. A match-up with San Antonio probably presents a 1-in-3 chance of a Detroit victory. A match-up with Phoenix has to be viewed at 50/50. I know what odds I like better.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I need more draft

Finally, the MLB draft has reached the mainstream—that is if 2pm on a Thursday can constitute “mainstream”. I don’t think it’s possible for me to get enough draft in my life. I have no problem watching seven rounds of the NFL draft from start to finish. I was actually surprised at how many people I know who refuse to watch anything beyond the Lions’ picks on NFL Draft Day (you know who you are). I can’t get enough of the suspense. I get as excited about a trade involving four draft picks for Eric Weddle as I do a trade that involves the number one pick in the draft. The draft is the time of the year where you get to see whether the people running your favorite team have any idea what they’re doing—and even if they don’t, it hardly matters. I have as much interest in Lions drafts now, as I did in the 90s when they weren’t the worst professional football organization of all-time. The draft is optimistic in its nature. That is the one day where everything is possible.

There have been numerous obstacles preventing MLB from having the same sort of medium as the NFL to deliver its draft. The most damaging of these obstacles has been the overwhelming odds against even a first-round draft pick from panning out. For much of its existence, the MLB Draft has produced many, many more Brien Taylor’s and Todd Van Popple’s in the first round as it has Alex Rodriguez’s. Another factor preventing the baseball draft from reaching mainstream is how little the impact of one player has on a baseball organization. In the NFL, one player can take a team from “has been” to 15-1 in just two seasons (see; Randy Moss). It takes two or three years for even the best baseball prospects to reach the major leagues once they are drafted. Another less than desirable feature of past baseball drafts is teams not drafting players because of “signability” issues. Any draft that doesn’t see the best players go in order of need loses a lot of its credibility. If the Yankees and Red Sox are drafting the best players because they are the only teams that can sign them, the whole point of having a draft goes out the window. The last major issue is the fact that nobody knows who any of the players are. College baseball isn’t even as popular as the WNBA. Most college football fans have seen the best college football players for three or four years. Even the players that people previously have never heard of get talked about so much leading up to the NFL Draft that it feels like they’ve seen them play for three or four years. Baseball doesn’t have that luxury.

While college baseball still isn’t very popular, and it still takes two or three years for even the best prospects to make it to MLB if at all, one thing has changed significantly which will help sell the MLB Draft: General Managers have become increasingly better at identifying the best talent. The 2000s drafts have been much more successful than the 1990s drafts. For the most part, GMs have stopped the insane philosophy of drafting high school pitchers with .21 ERAs and ten no-hitters against recreational baseball players. The MLB Draft is still the least exact of all the professional sports drafts but it is reaching the point of respectability. In the last three years, the Tigers have drafted Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, and Andrew Miller. Compare that to the awesome string of Tigers first-round draft picks from the 90’s—Ricky Greene, Matt Brunson, Cade Gaspar, Mike Drumright, Seth Greisinger, Matt Anderson, and Eric Munson—and you get the idea how much things have improved. Investing time in the MLB Draft never used to pay off. Now there’s a reason to watch and a reason to have expectations. The Tigers may be the best example of improved draft picks but they are hardly the only organization that has seen an increase in draft success. The Royals, Diamondbacks, and Devil Rays have all stocked their farm systems with talented players over the past few years.

Even though the MLB Draft has an uphill battle in terms of attracting a large audience, it does have some things going for it—namely the pace at which picks are selected. Instead of going through seven rounds in two days like the NFL, the MLB Draft goes through 50 rounds in two days. First round picks have a five-minute time allotment. The draft should also be attractive to small market or previously neglected teams. For teams like the Royals and Devil Rays, the way to respectability is through the draft. The Tigers went from one of the biggest messes in sports history to the class of MLB all because its GM knew what he was doing on Draft Day. The Yankees might have $200 million to spend on their roster, but the Royals will have the first shot at the next Alex Rodriguez every year. Since most teams have more in common with the Royals than the Yankees, I would expect this to be attractive to the vast majority of die-hard baseball fans.

All the MLB Draft needs is for ESPN to bring in a baseball version of Mel Kiper Jr. and have its Baseball Tonight crew cover the event. Viewers need to have an idea what is going on. The more the viewers know, the more they’ll watch. Nobody is going to watch a baseball draft if it doesn’t even look like ESPN cares about it. In fact, I think it’s a mistake that ESPN has decided to show the draft on ESPN2. What else does ESPN have going on at 2pm on a Thursday? Nonetheless, I am elated that the MLB Draft has come to television. No matter how exciting the Andrew Miller pick was last season, seeing it live on’s Draft Tracker can’t hold a candle to seeing it live on TV. Here is an interesting article discussing the MLB Draft. This guy did some research and it shows. Hopefully this draft thing catches on and eventually gets a promotion to ESPN.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Julio Franco should never retire

So much more should be made of the fact that Julio Franco is still playing Major League Baseball at the age of 48. A few years ago there was a story or two about Franco being the oldest position player in MLB history. But, if it was amazing that Franco was playing three years ago at the age of 45, it should be even more amazing that he is playing today at 48. Franco hit his first home run of the season over the weekend. That broke his old record as the oldest player to hit a home run in a MLB game. He now owns that record by three years. Satchel Paige has always been the ring-bearer for old players in baseball. Franco is two years older than Paige was when he retired. Paige might have lore behind him but Franco has the record book.

Franco’s career stats are probably much more impressive than most people realize. He is closing in on 2,600 career hits (75th all-time). His career batting average is .299. He has close to 1,300 runs and 1,200 RBIs. I think the general feeling about Franco is that he is just a marginal baseball player that manages to keep in impeccable shape. At 45, Franco hit .309. At 46, he hit .275. And at 47, he hit .273. Suffice it to say that most Major League Baseball players would love to hit .270 for a career. Franco has never hit below .270 in a full season. Teams keep signing him and Franco keeps producing. He will be 49 in August. He’ll only need to play one more season to reach the 50 year-old milestone. This story should be huge.

There are so many different ways that Franco's age can be put into perspective. He played with Pete Rose and Steve Carlton. Carlton is 62 and Rose is 66. He played with Manny Mota who played with Early Wynn who played with Lou Gehrig. Franco finished 2nd to Ron Kittle in the 1982 ROY balloting. Kittle played ten seasons in the majors and has been retired for 17 years! Franco also faced Jim Kaat who pitched against Ted Williams. Williams was born in 1918.

Most people have symbolic time machines that take them to places tucked away deep in their memory banks. For me, Franco represents one of those “time machines”. When I think of Franco, I remember so many things that have evaded my thoughts for 20+ years. I think of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I think of the "RBI Baseball" music. I think of the first time I beat Soda Popinski when I was eight-years old. I think of my grandparents. I think of the giant font on 1986 Topps baseball cards. I think of the time I brought a 1988 Topps Mike Greenwell card to “show-and-tell” and later found it in a rain-puddle outside our back door (if I knew then what I know now, I would not have cried). Franco is a portal to my past the same way a Smashing Pumpkins CD or the movie “Major League” is. I have a sneaking suspicion that when Franco retires, those memories will be much more difficult to reach. As much as I hate to admit it, my reasons for wanting Franco to play as long as possible are almost entirely self-serving. It doesn’t really matter who it is that’s playing baseball at 48, it just matters that someone is. I am thankful to Franco for giving me a chance to remember the past like it was yesterday.

In other—less selfish—ways, Franco represents what is possible. Before Franco, it was unheard of for a professional athlete to play past 45. He has reached—and blasted through—unchartered territory. It wasn’t too long ago that life expectancy was 50-years old. Franco is playing MLB at that age. Franco should be a maven for not only the 40+ population, but everyone who aspires to defy the odds. He didn’t just accidentally make it to the age of 48 in MLB. He isn’t a gimmick like so many athletes from the past who came back for a game just to enter the record books. His work ethic is tireless. His mental preparation is second to none. Franco is proof that if you don’t give in to preconceived notions, even the most impossible can be possible. I love the fact that Franco is still playing baseball. It will be a sad day when he finally retires. He represents so much of the past and so much for the future. Ironically, he really isn’t getting his just do in the present.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The 2007 Lions didn't catch any breaks

Now that the NFL Draft is over, let the rampant win/loss predictions for 2007 begin. I can’t remember a year when there wasn’t a least a good-sized contingent of Lions fans either saying “this is finally the year” or “we might be able to sneak into the playoffs at 8-8.” I used to do that when I was 10—not so much now. Despite the hoopla of the Calvin Johnson pick—and the eradication of trouble-makers per the Marinelli Doctrine—the draft almost never has anything to do with how the Lions will perform the following season.

The number one indicator of how the Lions will fare—other than the fact that they’re terrible—is the pending schedule for next season. Dating back to the Wayne Fontes-era, the Lions have failed or succeeded based largely on the difficulty of their schedule. The NFL schedule has always been created to give the better teams from the previous year a more difficult schedule and the weaker teams from the previous year an easier schedule. The Lions made a killing off of this in the 90’s. They seemed to almost purposefully fail every other year simply to set up a “cupcake” schedule the following season. This phenomenon somewhat started in 1989 but really got going in 1991. Here is how many games the Lions won in odd years starting in 1989:

1989 7
1991 12
1993 10
1995 10
1997 9
1999 8

Alternatively, here is how the Lions fared in even years starting in 1988:

1988 4
1990 6
1992 5
1994 9
1996 5
1998 5

In odd years in this range, the Lions had a mean win total of 9.33. In even years, the Lions had a mean win total of 5.66. I don’t believe the difference has anything to do with coincidence. The Lions were just good enough to do well with a poor schedule and just bad enough to do terribly with a difficult schedule.

Seemingly every year, Lions die-hards aren’t able to resist predicting absurd win totals based on the draft and “supposed” player development. I understand the excitement that goes into preparing for the upcoming football season. But, things have changed dramatically since the 90’s. The Lions can no longer limp into the playoffs with a roster full of holes. The “reward” of receiving a weak schedule for having a poor previous season has all but disappeared due to the league’s schedule realignment. The Lions were 3-13 in ’06. Their subsequent schedule in ’07 features teams with a combined ’06 record of 129-127. Needless to say, the Lions have their work cut out for them.

Here is how the games play out for NFC North in 2007:

Six games vs. NFC North
Four games vs. AFC West
Four games vs. NFC East
Two games against equivalent team from previous season in NFC West and NFC South

The last two games are all that exist in the name of the old NFL style of giving weak teams from the previous year easier schedules and vice versa. The Lions have had awful rosters for six years now which is one of the primary reasons they’ve fared so poorly. It’s also evident that not having the luxury of having an easier schedule has halted any type of miracle season. I think the way the NFL has the schedule set up now makes the most sense. There’s no need to punish good teams and reward bad teams. It was great to be a Lions fan in the 90’s when this policy almost single handily allowed the Lions to make the playoffs six times in the decade. Regardless, that policy was a misguided attempt to promote parity. The Salary Cap took care of that problem.

So, when you’re predicting the fate of the ’07 Lions, don’t bother thinking about who is playing QB or WR. Just look at the schedule. I have looked through the schedule quite a few times and I can’t see where this team will be able to improve more than a couple games in the win column. I realize that the Lions are capable of winning any game on the schedule per the “Any Given Sunday” mantra. What I tried to do is factor the likelihood of a victory. There are likely to be as many instances of the Lions beating a team they should lose to as there are of the Lions losing to a team they should beat so I don’t pick too many upsets. Sadly, the NFC North has been paired up with the two strongest divisions in football. So things are already looking bleak. Here is the schedule:

1 Sun, Sep 9 at Oakland
2 Sun, Sep 16 Minnesota
3 Sun, Sep 23 at Philadelphia
4 Sun, Sep 30 Chicago
5 Sun, Oct 7 at Washington
7 Sun, Oct 21 Tampa Bay
8 Sun, Oct 28 at Chicago
9 Sun, Nov 4 Denver
10 Sun, Nov 11 at Arizona
11 Sun, Nov 18 NY Giants
12 Thu, Nov 22 Green Bay
13 Sun, Dec 2 at Minnesota
14 Sun, Dec 9 Dallas
15 Sun, Dec 16 at San Diego
16 Sun, Dec 23 Kansas City
17 Sun, Dec 30 at Green Bay

Let’s break the schedule down the way the NFL does.

Intra-division games:

At best, the Lions could finish 3-3. Since they haven’t beaten Green Bay at Lambeau Field since I was in seventh grade, it’s not a stretch to consider that a loss. Winning at Chicago is nearly impossible. I don’t see the Lions beating Minnesota twice—especially since they haven’t won at Minnesota since 1997. So, 3-3 is the absolute best case scenario.

NFC East games:

The weakest team in the NFC East is Washington and the Lions have to play the Redskins on the road. That is 50/50 at best. The Lions will be underdogs to Dallas, Philly, and the NY Giants. I will reluctantly give the Lions a 1-3 record against those teams.

AFC West games:

The weakest team in the AFC West is Oakland but the Lions have to travel to Oakland. The Lions should win this game but it’s probably 50/50. They will be huge underdogs to Denver and San Diego and slight underdogs to KC at home. The best I can give the Lions in this group of games is 1-3.

NFC West and NFC South games:

The Lions have to play Arizona on the road and Tampa Bay at home. Arizona and Tampa Bay are in the same boat as the Lions. I think both games are 50/50 so I’ll give the Lions a 1-1 record here.

Keep in mind that I have tried to give the Lions the benefit of the doubt. A 3-3 record in conference is really pushing it. Unless Calvin Johnson has an immediate Randy Moss-type presence, the Lions will do no better than 6-10. If Johnson is unstoppable, then I can see an extra win at home against KC and a win at home against either the NY Giants or Dallas. That would be good enough for an 8-8 record. But, realistically, the Lions will be staring at another 10+ loss season come December. Hopefully Millen has his wide receiver fetish out of the way so he can start using his first round picks on strengthening the most important needs on the team (i.e. OL, LB, and CB). Then again, do we really need Aaron Gibson, Chris Claiborne, and Bryant Westbrook? Maybe that’s why Millen keeps taking WR’s; the alternative has been even worse.

Lastly, I do want to apologize for three Lions posts in a row. You don't deserve that and I will try not to let that happen again.

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