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Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Best Detroit Lions Team Ever: Part 1

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Don Drysdale
I am a fan of all Detroit sports and LOVE to write about them!

Ever since I was 7 years old, it has always been a dream of mine to watch my Detroit Lions win a Super Bowl.  Well, I am 42 years old now, and not only has that dream not been attained, but it has become more of a nightmare than anything.  Year after year, September rolls around and I get excited about a new season; the season that the Lions finally win the Super Bowl and make my dream come true.  Unfortunately, for the past 30+ years, they have let me down time and time again.

So, I am taking things into my own hands this time.  I am setting up a mythical playoff between the top 8 Detroit Lions teams in the Super Bowl era, and will have them play head to head, playoff-style until a Super Bowl winner is crowned!

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Here is how this is going to work.  First, my research has been completed, and I have found what I believe to be the top 8 Lions teams since the beginning of the Super Bowl era.  This means that every team from 1968 until the present were considered in the process.  Second, I looked at each team statistically speaking and seeded them 1 through 8.  Since I was born in 1977 and really did not start watching the Lions until 1984, I obviously did not get to see every single team play, so relying on stats was what I decided would be the fairest way to seed.

Next, I put the 8 teams into a bracket-style playoff.  Just like any other 8 team tournament, the quarterfinals will consist of the #1 seed against the #8 seed, with the winner playing the winner of the matchup between the #4 seed and the #5 seed.  In the bottom of the bracket, the #2 seed will play the #7 seed, with the winner playing against the winner of the matchup between the #3 seed and the #6 seed.  Of course, this means that the 4 quarterfinal winners will then play in the semifinals, and the winners of those match-ups will play in the Super Bowl to determine exactly which Detroit Lions team is the greatest of all time.

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As you may have noticed, this is part 1 of a 4 part series. Part 1, which you are currently reading, will consist of a breakdown of what exactly this concept is all about. Hopefully, you have a grasp of what that is now, and if not, then blame your teachers!  Part 1 will also include an introduction of the 8 teams that I selected to compete in this mythical playoff, along with a breakdown of each team to remind you what those teams were all about.  Part 2 will review the whole breakdown, just in case you missed it, and will include the results of the entire 1st round (quarterfinals) of the playoff, including a recap of each game.  Part 3 will once again review the breakdown, just in case you have been locked in a dark closet, and will include the 2nd round (semifinals) of the playoff, including the recaps of each game.  Part 4 of the series will again recap the breakdown just so that you can read it for a fourth time, and will of course, include the results of the Super Bowl. It will have a recap of the big game, which will without any doubt or argument whatsoever determine exactly which Detroit Lions team is the greatest of the Super Bowl era.  I hope that you are as entertained reading this as I was writing it. That being said, here are the 8 teams that qualified, including their seeds and a short breakdown of what each team was all about.

#1 Seed- 1991 Detroit Lions (12-4)

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Ok, I have to admit that I may be a little bit biased on this one, but the 1991 Lions team, led by Barry Sanders, was the first Lions team to really steal my heart. They got me truly excited about football, and about the possibility of winning a Super Bowl.  If it were not for the Washington Redskins, I truly believe that this team could have won it all. The Lions lost to the Redskins in the first game of the season 45-0 and in the last game of the season, the NFC Championship Game, 41-10. This also happens to be the last season that the Lions won against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, so that has to count for something, right?

#2 Seed- 1970 Detroit Lions (10-4)

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The 1970 team may very well be the most balanced Lions team of all time, as they ranked second in the league in both offense and defense.  The offense was led by quarterback Greg Landry, who started the final 6 games, and running back Mel Farr. The defense, that only allowed 14.4 points per game, was led by Hall of Fame cornerbacks, Dick LeBeau and Lem Barney.  The Lions ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Dallas Cowboys 5-0 in what is still the lowest-scoring playoff game of all time.  The most memorable play of the season came in week 8 when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Lions 19-17 on a last-second 63 yard NFL record-setting field goal by Tom Dempsey.

#3 Seed- 1995 Detroit Lions (10-6)

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The 1995 Lions team was an offensive juggernaut that was led by Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, and yes, even Scott Mitchell.  Sanders rushed for exactly 1,500 yards and caught another 398 yards worth of passes while scoring 12 touchdowns.  Moore broke the NFL reception record at the time by catching 123 passes. He accounted for 1,686 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Perriman added 108 catches. He and Moore became the first wide receiver duo in NFL history to grab 100 balls in the same season.  In what was a dream season for Mitchell, he threw for 4,338 yards and 32 touchdowns to lead the Lions to 10 victories, and a berth in the playoffs.  Unfortunately, that dream quickly turned into a nightmare. Mitchell threw 4 interceptions and the Lions were absolutely destroyed by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs by a score of 58-37 in a game that was not even that close.

#4 Seed- 1997 Detroit Lions (9-7)

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Barry! Barry! Barry! This Lions team was lead by the great Barry Sanders, and his quest to rush for 2,000 yards. In the final game of the season, he accomplished that goal.  Sanders finished the campaign with 2,053 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns, as he led the Lions to a 9-7 record and a playoff appearance. They finished in 3rd place in the NFC Central.  Overall, this was a solid team that ranked 4th in the league in offense and 10th in the league on defense.  In the first round of the playoffs, the Lions fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-10, in a game in which Sanders only managed to gain 65 yards on the ground.  I always felt that this team could have done much more given the talent that they had.

#5 Seed- 2011 Detroit Lions (10-6)

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The 2011 team was lead Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and the rest of an offense that averaged nearly 30 points per game. The Lions’ offense ranked 4th in the league.  Stafford was brilliant for most of the year as he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns, a feat that he has not been able sniff since. Johnson was equally as good as he caught 96 balls for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.  Unfortunately, for as good as the offense was, the defense was equally bad as it gave up an average of over 24 points per game. This included giving up 45 as the Lions fell in the first round of the playoffs to the New Orleans Saints 45-28, once again showing that this team fizzles out in big games.

#6 Seed- 1983 Detroit Lions (9-7)

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The 1983 team was a defensive minded team, led by Doug English and William Gay.  The dynamic duo combined for 26.5 sacks, and the Lions ended the season as the 2nd ranked defense in the entire league.  The offense on the other hand, led by Eric Hipple, had its struggles throughout the season, and never was able to really gain any momentum.  Hipple threw only 12 touchdowns, while throwing 18 passes that were intercepted by the opposing team.  Even without balance, the Lions were able to qualify for the playoffs and almost made a splash.  In the first round of the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Lions 24-23, as Eddie Murray missed a 44-yard field goal, with only 5 seconds remaining in the game.  Once again, Lions fan around the world had there hearts torn out when victory was in grasp.

#7 Seed- 2014 Detroit Lions (11-5)

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Unless you are lucky enough to have one of those memory eraser sticks from the movie, Men in Black, this season should still be fresh in your mind.  The 2014 Lions were led by Ndamukong Suh, and a defense that ended the season ranked 2nd in the league in points allowed, with only 16.8 points per game.  Unfortunately, the offense, which was thought to be a strength going into the season, did absolutely nothing to help the cause. They were only able to contribute 20.1 points per game, placing them 23rd in the league in that category.  11 wins, in my opinion, is very deceiving and realistically this was not that great of a team. They went 1-5 against playoff teams, including a 24-20 loss in the first round of the playoffs to the Dallas Referees, I mean Cowboys.

#8 Seed- 1993 Detroit Lions (10-6)

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Honestly, I had the toughest time determining the 8th and final team for this playoff. I guess the 1983 team was the best team left standing, though not by much.  This team was average at best, and to be completely honest, I have no idea how they were able to win 10 games and get into the playoffs.  The bright spot of the season was once again the great Barry Sanders.  Though Sanders only played in 11 of the 16 regular-season games, he was able to rush for 1,115 yards, an average of 101.4 yards per game.  When it came to the playoffs, the Lions gave a good effort but were defeated by the Green Bay Packers 28-24 as Brett Favre passed for 3 touchdowns, all to Sterling Sharpe.

So, those are the 8 teams that I have chosen to compete in a playoff that will determine which Detroit Lions team is the greatest of all time.  I can promise you that when all is said and done, one of these Lions teams will be crowned Super Bowl champion!  Please come back in the following days as we get closer to the Super Bowl to read parts 2, 3, and 4. You will not be disappointed!

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