Say what you will about the Detroit Lions’ secondary, the injury to Kyle Van Noy, or Nick Fairley’s weight issues, the story of this preseason remains the play of quarterback Matthew Stafford.
As the team’s regular season opener next week approaches, their +2800 odds to win the NFC championship are tied with those of the Washington Redskins, at the 7th-longest in the conference. While that ranks Detroit ahead of teams like the Giants, Cowboys, and Cardinals, it still situates them well outside of the elite ranks in the league and an also-ran even in their division.
If the Lions are going to prove Vegas wrong in 2014, Stafford needs to lead the charge.
The good news is obviously Stafford’s new weapons. In the preseason, former Seahawk Golden Tate has been performing at the level he says he’s confident he can when it counts. The Super Bowl winner represents the first quality wide receiver Stafford has had besides Megatron in…ever. The diminutive pass catcher has looked explosive in his preseason work thus far, and should find himself open more than he ever did as the number one man in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the backlog at tight end, which now includes first round pick Eric Ebron, should give coach Caldwell options in terms of schemes that benefit Stafford. And with Reggie Bush looking ready to bust off the kind of quality running an offense needs to keep defenses honest.
But here’s the trouble: Stafford himself has yet to look confident this year. In their third (and most significant) preseason game against Jacksonville, Stafford went 10-for-18 with no touchdowns and one interception. What’s worse, the slinger threw two additional passes that were clear interceptions for a more capable defense, and generally did not look sharp.
It’s the preseason, so everything must be understood through the lens of meaninglessness. But with so much on the line for the Lions, who have gone all-in on their QB, and will need to score points in bunches to compete in the NFC North, Stafford’s influence can’t be overstated.