Deciding the greatest Detroit Lions team of all-time

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 41 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!

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 was 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.  At 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.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the seeds.

1 The Seeds

#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 one of the few times the Lions have 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, which 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 Cowboys5-0 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 led 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 Buccaneers20-10, 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 led by 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 to 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 fans around the world had their 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!

On to the bracket!

Best Lions Teams: 2014


#1 – 1991 Lions (12-4) vs. #8 – 1993 Lions (10-6) @ Pontiac Silverdome

#4 – 1997 Lions (9-7) vs. #5 – 2011 Lions (10-6) @ Pontiac Silverdome

#2 – 1970 Lions (10-4) vs. #7 – 2014 Lions (11-5) @ Tiger Stadium

#3 – 1995 Lions (10-6) vs. #6 – 1983 Lions (9-7) @ Pontiac Silverdome

#1 – 1991 Lions (12-4) vs. #8 – 1993 Lions (10-6) @ Pontiac Silverdome

In a matchup between 2 teams that almost looked identical if it were not for the different color jerseys, Barry Sanders stole the show, as he rushed for 211 yards for the 1991 team and 181 yards for the 1993 team. But in the end, it was the kickers who made all the difference in the world, as veteran Eddie Murray kicked 4 field goals for the 1991 team, and 2nd-year kicker Jason Hanson missed what would have been a game-winning field goal as time expired. When the game was finished, Wayne Fontes was seen shaking hands with Wayne Fontes, as both smiled on from midfield.  What an awkward experience that must have been for both coaches.

First look at Devin Funchess in a Lions uniform [Photo]

FINAL SCORE: 1991 Lions 23 – 1993 Lions 21

#4 – 1997 Lions (9-7) vs. #5 – 2011 Lions (10-6) @ Pontiac Silverdome

This battle between the Lions leading rusher of all time, Barry Sanders, and the Lions Leading passer of all time, Matthew Stafford is one that will not soon be forgotten.  Sanders, from the 1997 team, was able to run rampant in the first half against the 2011 defense, as he carried the ball 17 times for 230 yards and 4 touchdowns to give his team a 28-0 halftime lead.  The 2nd half though was a different story as Sanders never even came out of the tunnel and Captain Comeback, Matthew Stafford rallied the 2011 team for 5 fourth-quarter touchdowns; including the game-winner to Calvin Johnson, with 5 seconds left on the clock.  Reports are that Sanders tweeted out that he was retiring immediately but then took it down. This has not yet been confirmed.

FINAL SCORE: 2011 Lions 35 – 1997 Lions 31

#2 – 1970 Lions (10-4) vs. #7 – 2014 Lions (11-5) @ Tiger Stadium

In a game played at Tiger Stadium, in 9-degree weather, the 1970 team, led by Greg Landry was only able to score 1 touchdown against the 2014 defense, but that was enough.  The 2014 team, led by Ndamukong Suh, knew that they had their work cut out for them when they found out the game would be played outdoors, in cold weather, against a team with a winning record. Matthew Stafford, quarterback for the 2014 team completed only 13 of 26 passes and threw 3 interceptions, all to cornerback, Dick LeBeau, as Stafford’s likeliness of losing games against winning teams on the road continues.

FINAL SCORE: 1970 Lions 7 – 2014 Lions 0

#3 – 1995 Lions (10-6) vs. #6 – 1983 Lions (9-7) @ Pontiac Silverdome

The final game of the 1st round of the playoffs featured the unstoppable 1995 Lions offense against the 1983 2nd ranked Lions defense, in what was sure to be a great game.  Unfortunately for the 1983 team, Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, and Brett Perrimanwere just too much to handle, as the 1995 Lions scored 21 points in each half to cruise to victory.  Sanders rushed 26 times for 221 yards and two touchdowns while Moore and Perriman each caught a pair of long touchdowns.  One bright spot for the 1983 team was Billy Sims, as he carried the ball 20 times for 174 yards, but only 34 of those yards came in the 2nd half. Eric Hipple and the 1983 team had to start throwing the ball to attempt a comeback, and just couldn’t keep up with the potent scoring of their counterparts from 1995. The comeback never came close to happening.

FINAL SCORE: 1995 Lions 42 – 1983 Lions 17

Whew, what a first day of the playoffs! Did things go as you expected or were you surprised by the results?

On to the semifinals!

Believe all the Adian Hutchinson hype!


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#1 – 1991 Detroit Lions (12-4) vs. #5 – 2011 Detroit Lions (10-6) @ Pontiac Silverdome

In an unforgettable game between two of the best Detroit Lions teams of all time, Barry Sanders broke the NFL rushing record, as the 1991 Lions outlasted the 2011 Lions to advance to the Super Bowl.  Sanders carried the ball only 25 times but was able to rack up 345 rushing yards while scoring 4 touchdowns on the day, with 3 of the touchdowns coming in the first half from more than 6o yards out.  With a 27-13 halftime lead, the 1991 team felt like they had the game in the bag, but the contest was far from over.  Matthew Stafford orchestrated a ferocious 2nd half comeback that ended up falling just short of victory. With :04 seconds left in the game and the ball spotted on the 11-yard line, Stafford tried to force a ball to Calvin Johnson that was intercepted by Bennie Blades in the end zone to seal the deal.

FINAL SCORE: 1991 Lions 37 – 2011 Lions 31

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#2 – 1970 Detroit Lions (10-4) vs. #3 – 1995 Detroit Lions (10-6) @ Tiger Stadium

In a game that will forever be remembered as the Blizzard Bowl, the 1970 Detroit Lions battled the 1995 Detroit Lions in a nearly empty Tiger Stadium.  With temperatures reaching a high of only 2 degrees, along with 45 mph winds and heavy snow, nearly every fan decided to stay home and watch the game from their couch.  The 1991 team offered to move the game to the Silverdome, but the 1970 team refused to know very well that they would be climbing right into a lion’s den, wait…never mind.  Anyway, not one pass was thrown in the entire game, and neither team was able to score a single point in regulation.  Barry Sanders, from the 1995 team, was held to 74 yards on 41 carries as his team was never even able to cross midfield.  Finally in overtime, on his 41st and final carry of the game, Sanders fumbled the ball when he was hit simultaneously by Dick LeBeau and Lem Barney.  LeBeau recovered the loose ball and returned it to the 1995 Lions’ 7-yard line, setting up a chip shot 24-yard field goal by Errol Mann to win the game.

FINAL SCORE: 1970 Detroit Lions 3 – 1995 Detroit Lions 0


This sets us up for the Super Bowl of the greatest Detroit Lions teams of all time.  To make things fair, the game will be played at the neutral Ford Field, in Detroit, Michigan. The greatest Lions team of the Superbowl era will be determined, as the 1991 Lions and Barry Sanders square off against the 1970 Lions and their ferocious defense, led by Dick LeBeau and Lem Barney.

So, without further delay, let’s find out who is the best Lions team of the Super Bowl era. Will it be the 1970 Lions, led by Greg Landry and Dick LeBeau, or the 1991 Lions, led by Barry Sanders and Chris Spielman? Here we go!

#1 – 1991 Detroit Lions vs. #2 – 1970 Detroit Lions @Ford Field, Detroit, MI

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Some Super Bowls do not live up to their hype, but that was not the case this time when the 1991 Lions squared off against the 1970 Lions. This game will be remembered as the best Super Bowl that the Lions have ever played in.

Las Vegas set the opening line at -3 for the 1991 Lions, but that quickly dropped to a pick-em game when it was found that they played their semifinal game with overinflated footballs, thus giving them no advantage whatsoever. Now, I know what you are thinking, why in the world would the point spread drop if they were playing at a disadvantage? Well, apparently it was an advantage after all. Rodney Peete, in a secret interview with Peter King of Sports Illustrated, opened up about how he prefers his footballs.

“I prefer them to be overinflated. I have always preferred them to be overinflated and I will always prefer them to be overinflated.” Peete said.

The 1st quarter started with a bang as Mel Gray took the opening kickoff back 101 yards for a touchdown, and Eddie Murray kicked the extra point, giving the 1991 Lions a 7-0 lead. Amazingly, on the ensuing kickoff, Bobby Williams matched Gray as he ran the kickoff back 97 yards to tie the game up, 7-7. The score remained that way until the last play of the 2nd quarter when Barry Sanders, who only had 35 yards up to that point, made what many are saying was the best run of his career. Sanders took the handoff and made no less than 8 players from the 1970 team miss, on his way to a 78-yard touchdown run to put the 1991 team up 14-7 going into the half.

The 2nd half started off much slower than the first, with both teams punting on their first 2 possessions. With 3:21 left in the 3rd quarter, Peete threw a pass over the middle that was intercepted by 1970 cornerback, Lem Barney, who returned the ball all the way to the 1991 team’s 14-yard line. This set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Mel Farr to tie the game up once again at 14-14.

In the 4th quarter, both teams exchanged field goals to make the score 17-17 with 3:20 to go in the game. This is when Barry Sanders took over once again. The 1991 team started with the ball on their own 20-yard line and ran down the clock, as Sanders carried the ball on 10 consecutive plays, including on the final play of the drive. He spun around two players and walked into the end zone with only 5 seconds remaining in the game. After scoring the touchdown, Sanders just smiled and tossed the ball to the ref, just like he always does. Murray added the extra point to give the 1991 team a 24-17 lead. On what would be the final play of the game, Murray kicked the ball off to Bobby Williams, who had already returned one kick back for a touchdown. Williams made things interesting but was eventually tackled at his own 48-yard line to end the game.

FINAL SCORE: 1991 Detroit Lions 24 – 1970 Detroit Lions 17


So, the 1991 Detroit Lions will go down as the best Lions team of all time, do you agree? If not, which Lions team do you think is the greatest in franchise history?

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