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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ramifications of a Lost Lions' Season ... plus week 12 picks

Last week:
7-7 ATS
11-3 straight up

Overall:
81-77-5 ATS (51.2%)
97-62-1 straight up (61.0%)

The Lions climbed into their own coffin when they started out 1-3.  The lid was shut and the nails driven in two weeks ago against Minnesota.  The coffin was buried underground with a crushing loss to Green Bay that sent us to 4-6, and now the season is over.

Detroit will not win its last 6 games.  That's a fact.  Not because the schedule is brutal; not because they aren't any good; not because of injuries.  Just because they're the Lions, and they aren't going to.

Even if they did, they probably wouldn't beat out Green Bay, New Orleans, Dallas or Tampa for the wildcard . But it's not worth talking about. It's not going to happen. Let's be honest, we're not going to win tomorrow against the 9-1 freaking Texans, let alone 6 straight.

So the season that began with so much promise has been killed in its tracks.  We've gone from dreamer to downer, from hopeful to hopeless, from postseason hype to offseason gripe.  "Who will we face in the Super Bowl?" has been replaced with "Who do we draft in the 1st round?"

So ... the question, as always: who's fault is it?  Who do we blame?  Or, in other words, what are the ramifications of this wasted season?

Let's start with two obvious questions.

Will Jim Schwartz be fired? 
Answer: no. 

Will Stafford remain the starting quarterback?
Answer: yes. 


Usually, when a team has playoff aspirations and falls short with a 5-11 or 6-10 season, the coach and/or quarterback are in big trouble.  We'll certainly see at least 8 coaches fired (probably more) and at least 8 starting QBs replaced.  But Detroit won't be among them.  While plenty of blame for the lost season should be given to Schwartz and Stafford, they are also the cornerstones of the team.  To blow up the nucleus right now would be premature. (Though I, personally, wouldn't be upset)

So who will be fired? 

Something drastic has to change.  The Lions have lost too many close games to inferior opponents.  The secondary has been pathetic, the play-calling has been lousy, and Detroit is one of the most penalized teams in the league, again.

Scott Linehan, the offensive coordinator, is probably safe.  The Lions are 2nd in total yards, behind only New England.

That may appear impressive, until you realize we are a mediocre 15th in points scored.  How does that makes sense?  How do you move the ball 401 yards per game and only score 23 points?

Well .... consider these numbers:
  • 19th in yards per pass
  • 15th in yards per carry
  • 11th in third-down conversions
  • 6th in offensive penalties
  • 9th in turnovers
  • 7th in field goals 
  • 1st in dropped passes
Not all of those things are Scott Linehan's fault.  Most of them are Stafford's fault, or Mayhew/Lewand/Schwartz's fault for drafting the wrong players.  But certainly Linehan's playcalling hasn't been any good.  

If Linehan does get fired, all the NFL talking heads will say: "How can you fire the guy who coordinates the 2nd best offense in the league?!?!?!"   But as I wrote last week, it's not all about yards.  If it were, Detroit wouldn't be 4-6.  The offense doesn't simply need yards; it needs efficiency, intelligence, cohesiveness.  Linehan doesn't help in those areas.   But, all that said, his job is pretty much safe. 

What about the defense? 

Gunther Cunningham, the 66 year old grump who looks and acts like he's 96, has led an incompetent defense for several years, giving up ridiculous amounts of yardage to players who aren't all that dynamic.  It isn't completely his fault that the secondary lacks talent (again, poor drafting), but it is his job to teach the defense how to tackle and cover, and they can't do either.   But more than those things, it's been a problem of penalties and discipline.  Suh has regressed, VandenBosch is a liability, and Cliff Avril doesn't do anything unless it's third down.  The safeties are a joke.  The corners are a joke, except Chris Houston, who's hurt again.  In short, Cunningham stinks as a defensive coordinator, and I'm sick of his antics.

He's the guy who called DeAndre Levy "the best linebacker I've ever coached."   Really?  Didn't you coach Derrick Thomas in Kansas City?  Doesn't he have 126 career sacks?

He's the guy who called the Lions' secondary "one of the league's best?"  Really?  I mean, really????

I'm sick of his hyperbole, I'm sick of his temper tantrums, I'm sick of his old man demeanor.  Mostly, I'm sick of him not being able to teach guys how to defend.  Gunther needs to go.

But will he? 

Probably not.  He and Schwartz are buddies.  They probably are a package deal.

So, who the heck is gone? 

Well, you can start with the special teams coordinator. Danny Crossman.  The team can't cover kicks or punts, and Stephan Logan is pathetic, with the worst average on kick returns in the league (18.6).  Simply for  not recognizing Logan's inability to play, Crossman should be gone.  But does that solve any of our problems? Don't we need a bigger move than firing the special teams guy after a flop of a season?

What about Leshoure?  Should he be replaced in the backfield by someone who can actually gain more than 8 yards?

What about KVB?  Can we finally admit he's done, after two straight terrible years filled with trash talk and overpursuit and being out of position?

And the always popular question, can we finally move Backus to guard? Is Riley Reiff ready to start protecting the blindside?

Well, I think all of those questions are a yes.  But my opinion doesn't matter too much.  

I think the Lions need to cut their losses with Jahvid Best and find a new speed running back, and reduce Leshoure to a short-yardage back. His weed habit alone makes him a liability.   I think they need to make Lawrence Jackson or Willie Young a starter at DE, and allow VandenBosch to either retire or be a great leader on the bench.  And I think Backus can either play guard or enjoy play somez golf.  Riley Reiff is more than ready to play left tackle. Maybe move Backus to the right side.

On top of those things, the Lions need to invest in the cornerback position, whatever it takes.  They need to trade up in the 1st round and get the best CB prospect.  They need to trade Titus Young or Nick Fairley or DeAndre Levy or all three and land a real cornerback who can shut somebody down.  They need to actively fix their biggest weakness, or they'll repeat this crummy season again next year.

Also, they need to get rid of the rotten apples.  Again, that's Titus, Fairley and Leshoure.  They may be decent players, but their attitudes suck, and building a winning team requires leadership and cohesiveness.  You're not getting leadership from Schwartz (too maniacal and self-obsessed), Stafford (too self-absorbed), Calvin (too introspective), or Suh (borderline psychotic).  VandenBosch tries to lead, but he stinks on the field, and Delmas thinks the definition of leadership is fist fights.  The only good leader on the team might be Nate Burleson.    So cut the malcontents and build around guys who want to be part of a team.

So, what actually will happen?

Probably not much, unfortunately. I think the Lions' playoff appearance last season bought them all some time.  Schwartz and Stafford are safe for now, but a crappy 2013 will endanger both of them, especially Schwartz.  If Schwartz goes, both coordinators go.  Lewand and Mayhew could be gone too; they made a few nice moves early, but the last two offseasons have been ineffective at best.

As far as personnel, I don't see many changes happening.  At least not the important changes that need to happen.  Detroit will probably cut ties with Logan and probably move KVB to the bench, but I doubt they'll change much else.  I'd except Backus to remain at left tackle in 2013, with Reiff probably playing right tackle.  I think Pettigrew and Titus (who both suck tremendously) will remain integral in  the offense.   And I doubt they'll do enough to fix the secondary, other than bring in a few more castoffs with NCAA skills.

So, all that to say .... 

This season has been a disaster, and the Lions aren't going to do enough to make sure it doesn't happen next year.   Boo.

Here are the week 12 picks:

Thanksgiving: 

Texans (9-1) @ Lions (4-6)
Predicted Line: HOU by 6.5

Actual Line: HOU by 4

Too much talent.  JJ Watt, Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Duane Brown, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Jonathan Joseph, Matt Schaub... .  We are just mismatched everywhere you look.  Texans 34-26.

Redskins (4-6) @ Cowboys (5-5)
Predicted Line: DAL by 3

Actual Line: DAL by 3

My first reaction is to ride the momentum of RG3 and take the upset.  But Carr, Claiborne and Ware will make throwing the ball a nightmare for the rookie QB.  Can he and Alfred Morris move the ball on the ground enough to keep pace with Romo, who was sacked 7 times last week against Cleveland?  I think so.  Losing DeMarco Murray has been a blow to Dallas and caused them to become one-dimensional.   Redskins 30-27.

Patriots (7-3) @ Jets (4-6)
Predicted Line: TEBOW by 3

Actual Line: NE by 7.5 

Pats 37-6.

Lions Recap:  This was perhaps the most pitiful game in a very pitiful season.  The Lions blew at least 5 golden chances to win.  Everyone is culpable, but the biggest goats are:  Schwartz, VandenBosch, the refs, Pettigrew (that fumble!!), and even Hanson.  Great game by the linebackers, especially Durant, and also Fairley's best game of the season.  Reiff and Leshoure looked good too.  Stafford looked better than in past weeks, but still not great.   I'm not going to waste more time talking about this game.  It was just BRUTAL. On to the rest of the picks....

(2-1 ATS so far)

Raiders (3-7) @ Bengals (5-5)
Predicted Line: CIN by 7.5
Actual Line: CIN by 9

The Carson Palmer Bowl is finally here!!

I wonder if Oakland regrets trading those 1st round picks for a QB coming off major surgery who is past his prime and perennially leads the league in pick-sixes?   It's tough to say ... anytime you can mortgage your franchise's future for a QB who throws 30 TDs and 27 INTs and has a record of 7-13, you pretty much have to do it.

I like the Bengals in a blowout.  The fans will make sure Palmer feels plenty of hatred-vibes.  Cincy 33-7.

Steelers (6-4) @ Browns (2-8)
Predicted Line: PIT by 2
Actual Line: PIT by 1

No Ben, no Leftwich.  That means it's Charlie Batch against Brandon Weeden!  Hide the women and children!!! Let's say Steelers 12-9 in a battle of field goals.

Bills (4-6) @ Colts (6-4)
Predicted Line: IND by 5
Actual Line: IND by 3

This game is Buffalo's last chance at the wildcard.  If they lose, it's almost certainly the end of Chan Gailey and Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo.  So, no pressure.  

For Luck, this game means almost as much - it's about securing the playoffs in his rookie season, and it's about keeping pace with RG3 (79% completion, 8 TDs, 1 INT, 113 rushing yards in his last two games - holy crap!) in what will become the most heated Rookie of the Year battle ever.  Consider that Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson and Russell Wilson are all having great years, and none of them have a chance against RG3 and Luck.

I like Indy, but I think it'll stay close with Buffalo fighting for their lives.   Colts 26-24.

Broncos (7-3) @ Chiefs (1-9)
Predicted Line: DEN by 6.5
Actual Line: DEN by 11

So, this line implies that it would be DEN by 17 if the game were at Milehigh Stadium?  Doesn't that seem a bit too high?  I mean, I know Peyton is on a tear and the Broncos have scored 30 or more five straight times, but division games tend to be tough-fought, even when one team sucks.

On the flip side, Von Miller has probably taken the lead in the D-MVP race.  He and Manning could potentially monopolize both MVP awards.  That would be pretty cool.  What the heck, I'll take the Broncos.   I'm sick of giving KC one more chance to prove they don't suck.  Denver 37-24.

Titans (4-6) @ Jaguars (1-9)
Predicted Line: JAC by 3
Actual Line: TEN by 4


Blaine Gabbert going on injured reserve is the best/worst thing that could happen to Jacksonville.  Best because now Chad Henne will play and give them a chance to win some games.   Worst because they might win some games and lose their chance at a top 3 pick and a franchise QB in the draft, which would force them to use a Henne/Gabbert/2nd round rookie QB combo in 2013, which would be terrible for everyone involved.   (It would be exactly like what happened to Miami last year, when Matt Moore's good second half of the season helped them escape an 0-7 start and they ended up drafting Tannehill instead of Luck or RG3).   Granted, there is no Luck or RG3 in the next draft, but Geno Smith might be pretty special.  

I like the momentum Henne and Justin Blackmon began last week, and I like them as a 4-point homedog.  Let's say Jags by 3, thus crushing my preseason pick of the Titans as a wildcard team, and giving KC a clear-road to the #1 pick.  

Vikings (6-4) @ Bears (7-3)
Predicted Line: CHI by 2.5 (Cutler?)
Actual Line: CHI by 7


Cutler's status is still unknown, but based on this line, Vegas probably thinks he's going to play.  And, Percy Harvin was ruled out, which means the Bears entire defense can focus on AP.  But nonetheless, Chicago is not 7 points better than Minnesota.  Adrian Peterson has proven he can gain yards even with 8 men in the box.   Furthermore, the Bears O-line stinks.  Lastly, Jared Allen.

Vikings 27-23.

Falcons (9-1) @ Bucs (6-4)
Predicted Line: TB by 1
Actual Line: ATL by 1

Over the last four games, Tampa has been the better team.  Atlanta is still feeling pretty cocky following their 8-0 start.  This is a huge statement game for Tampa at home, and I think they'll catch Atlanta overconfident.  Bucs 34-26.  

Seahawks (6-4) @ Dolphins (4-6)
Predicted Line: SEA by 1.5
Actual Line: SEA by 3


When Seattle is favored on the road in a 1pm game, take the points and don't think twice.  Miami 20-13.

Ravens (8-2) @ Chargers (4-6)
Predicted Line: BAL by 3
Actual Line: BAL by 1

I really like the line in this game; not sure why it's so low.  Baltimore is gearing up for the playoffs, while San Diego hasn't beat anybody except KC since week 2.  The Bolts are busy thinking about who their next coach will be and booking offseason vacations.  Baltimore will destroy them and San Diego won't even fight back.  Might this be Norv's last game?   Ravens 44-10.

49ers (7-2-1) @ Saints (5-5)
Predicted Line: NO by 2.5
Actual Line: SF by 1

Until they lose, I'm not picking against the Saints.  Especially at home when all they have to do is win by 1.

However, I'm a little nervous to pick against Colin Kaepernick, who may or may not be the starter on Sunday.  (Harbaugh is playing the Mystery QB Card to the last second, which is usually annoying, but smart in this instance, because New Orleans has to prepare defensively for 2 QBs with totally different styles). Kaepernick is frighteningly good, but there's no stopping the Saints right now.  Another 4 TDs for Brees.  33-31.

Rams (3-6-1) @ Cardinals (4-6)
Predicted Line: ARZ by 3
Actual Line: ARZ by 1

Remember Arizona's 4-0 start?   No, me neither.

Now, 6th round rookie Ryan Lindley (who looked ghastly last week) gets the start against a much-better-than-you-think St. Louis defense.  This is a dude who threw 48 interceptions in college, against such competition as Fresno St, Wyoming and UNLV.  He lost a game to Louisiana-Lafayette less than one year ago.  Now he has to match wits with Jeff Fisher?  And the Cardinals are favored?  Man, I wish Alie would let me bet real money sometimes.  Rams 23-13.

Packers (7-3) @ Giants (6-4)
Predicted Line: GB by 3
Actual Line: NYG by 3

There are an insane amount of road favorites this week.  Ten in all.  I'm surprised this isn't one of them.  Green Bay has won 8 of their last 9 if you don't count that silly Seattle game where the replacement refs gave the wrong team the victory.

(Speaking of which .... how about the two worst calls of all time -- Calvin's complete-the-process-bullshit, and Justin Forsett's get-tackled-then-get-up-and-run-80-yards-and-score-an-unchallengable-TD both going against Detroit in the past 5 years. What are the odds of that.)

I like the Packers in a major revenge game.  They have got to still be pissed about the 2011 playoffs.  I don't care that Clay, Jennings and Woodson will be out.  Rodgers will be in, and when you can get points with Aaron Rodgers, it's a very profitable spot.  Let's say Packers 27-23.  

Panthers (2-8) @ Eagles (3-7)
Predicted Line: CAR by 3
Actual Line:  CAR by 3

In the Battle of Disappointing NFC Teams That Made Bold Predictions in July,  I like Cam Newton a lot more than Nick Foles.  Also, I think Philly officially gave up last week.  Panthers 24-14.


Go Lions I guess ....


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