Here’s something we haven’t been able to say in a long, long time: The Detroit Lions are overhyped.
This week’s Sports Illustrated features the Lions on the cover, and every major media outlet is devoting plenty of attention to the Lions, and that’s just fine: They’re 4-0 and finally playing good football after Matt Millen’s decade of incompetence, and Detroit fans have every reason to be excited.
But let’s get real: The Lions aren’t as good as the NFL’s other 4-0 team, the Packers. They’re just not. And they’re probably not as good as several 3-1 teams, including the Saints, Patriots, Ravens and Bills. The Lions have been celebrated so much for their big back-to-back second-half comebacks that a lot of people have forgotten that those big comebacks were necessitated by terrible play in the first halves of back-to-back games against the Vikings and Cowboys.
However, the Lions hype is only going to explode in the next week. The Lions are hosting Monday Night Football for the first time since ESPN acquired the Monday Night rights, and you just know the Worldwide Leader is going to go all-in on promoting the Lions. ESPN’s Jemele Hill is first in line on that front with her column trying to make the case that Ndamukong Suh was a better draft pick for the Lions than Barry Sanders.
“Suh already seems to have done something Sanders never could: He’s changed the Lions’ losing culture or, at least, been the most important catalyst in that change,” Hill writes.
Let’s not go overboard here. Suh hasn’t changed anything in Detroit yet. He had a great rookie year, but the Lions’ 6-10 season didn’t exactly change the losing culture. And through four games this year he hasn’t had the same impact he had as a rookie. Let’s wait until he has played more than 20 games in his NFL career — and until the Lions have won more than half of those games — before we start comparing him to an all-time great player like Sanders.
And let’s not forget that Sanders did plenty to change the Lions’ losing culture. The 1988 Detroit Lions had one of the worst offenses in NFL history (one statistical analysis rated it the second worst ever, ahead of only the 1970 Boston Patriots), and Sanders stepped into that offense as a rookie in 1989 and became an all-pro. By Sanders’ third season, 1991, the Lions were in the NFC Championship Game. Since their 1957 championship the Lions have made the postseason a whopping nine times, and five of those, including the only time they ever won in the postseason, were during Sanders’ 10-year career.
Could the Lions be building something that exceeds what Sanders’ Lions of the 1990s accomplished? Maybe. But “maybe” is a long way from actually doing it.
The Lions should be proud of what they’ve done this season, and Lions fans should be excited about their talented team, but as the hype grows out of control this week (and as it inevitably extends into talk that a good football team can somehow rebuild a beleaguered city), let’s remember that they haven’t won anything yet. And even if they beat the Bears on Monday night, that just means they’re the second-best team in the NFC North.