No professional sport changes more from year to year then the National Football League. Many teams come back looking completely different from the product they put on the field just eight months earlier. Every year in the NFL there is a handful of teams that will take a big step forward or backwards from the previous year. The key is figuring out who these teams are before everyone else does.
In Week 1 of this NFL season there are two teams that are going in opposite directions coming into the season and they collide in the first week of the year in Soldier Field.
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The Detroit Lions (2-14 in 2010 and 0-8 on the road) go into Chicago to open the 2010 season against the Chicago Bears (7-9 in 2010 and 5-3 at home). The Lions have been the worst team in the NFL the past few years, but things look like they are starting to change quickly in Motown.
It all starts with the Lions offense, where they have 2009 No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford starting his second year. Stafford looks ready to take the next step this year as he comes off a preseason where he threw three touchdowns, completed more than 70 percent of his passes and had a 92.9 quarterback rating, which was more than 30 points higher then his rating for last year. The coaches and media in Detroit have raved about how Stafford’s overall demeanor and leadership make him look like a seasoned NFL veteran signal caller these days.
The Lions have surrounded Stafford with more weapons this year as they went out and grabbed a game-breaking running back in Jahvid Best. The first rounder out of Cal looked explosive while averaging 8.6 yards per carry in the preseason. Adding veteran wide receiver Nate Burelson to this group with one of the games most dynamic players in Calvin Johnson at the other receiver spot, and overall the Lions may have the best group of young skilled players in the NFL.
The Bears offense should also be more exciting this year with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz running the show. But exciting in which way seems to be the top question. There is no doubt that the Martz offense will eventually put up big numbers, but his offense can take some time to learn and so far this preseason the Bears have looked completely lost. In the Martz offense the receivers run deeper routes and a lot more is asked of the offensive lineman in regards to holding off the oncoming pass rush longer. This can be the big downfall for the Martz offense, and it was never more obvious then this preseason as Bears quarterbacks were sacked a league leading 19 times.
The Bears looked confused all preseason as the coaches and players just couldn’t get on the same page and in the process they went 0-4 and averaged the second least amount of points in the league at 11.5 per game.
The Lions went out this offseason and made it a point to revamp their defense, replacing seven starters from the 2009 defense that ranked last in the league allowing almost 31 points and nearly 400 yards of offense a game.
With first round pick (No. 2 overall) Ndamukong Suh leading the way along with newly acquired free agent Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Lions now sport one of the top pass rushing units in the league. In the preseason the Lions new-look defense piled up 11 sacks overall, placing them in the top 10 in the NFL.
The Bears defense is still lead by Brain Urlacher, but the 32 year old LB is nowhere near the player he once was and like most of his Bears defensive teammates who average almost 29 years of age, old by NFL standards. This group overall hasn’t ranked in the top half of the NFL in team defense the last three years and with only one starter 25 years or younger, it’s hard to see this unit improving this season.
It’s obvious the Detroit Lions have looked much better then the Chicago Bears this preseason. The key question is: are we putting too much stock into what we seen this preseason? Maybe so, but when handicapping a sport like the NFL you have to quickly notice these changes that happen year to year. It’s obvious the Lions are loaded with young talent and are clearly headed in the right direction going into this season while the Bears look like an old team with a lot of work still to do. Take the Lions and the +6.5 NFL point spread here in the season opener.