I suppose it’s fitting that, according to what most scholars consider to be misrepresented Mayan predictions, 2012 is supposed to be the last year the world will exist before being sucked into a black hole or colliding with a passing asteroid or being eaten by New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
That’s because the Detroit Lions might have their best chance yet at winning their very first Super Bowl.
Okay, a little bit of hyperbole there. In 1991, the Lions went 12-4 with All-World running back Barry Sanders, winning their division and making the NFC championship game. That year, they killed the Cowboys in the divsional playoffs to win their only playoff game of the modern era. But they were never supposed to stand much of a chance against the Redskins in the conference championship game — after falling 45-0 to the ‘Skins during the regular season, they lost that game 41-10 as Washington marched to its first Super Bowl title.
This year, the heavy favorites like Green Bay and New Orleans don’t have Detroit’s number to quite that degree, and the Lions might be peaking at the perfect time.
Or it is re-peaking? Because they peaked early with that 5-0 start before stumbling against stiff competition while dealing with a slew of injuries in October and November. But they’ve battled back to clinch a wild-card spot, and they’ve averaged over 33 points per game in three straight wins over quality opponents to do so.
They’re off to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, and a win Sunday against resting Green Bay team would give them their second-best record in franchise history.
While that ’91 team was just as hot (six straight wins coming into the playoffs), ranked higher and just as dangerous offensively with Sanders in the backfield, this one might be better equipped to make a run — the difference being that, in a pass-first league, they have one of the hottest starting quarterbacks in football.
That ’91 squad was quarterbacked by Erik Kramer, who relieved an injured Rodney Peete midway through the season. Kramer put up pedestrian numbers, only managing games while Sanders did all the work.
This year, the running game isn’t nearly as fear-inducing, but Kevin Smith has at least kept defenses somewhat honest as Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson do their thing. In the month of December, the 23-year-old Stafford completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,399 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. His passer rating: a ridiculous 112.8.
The 26-year-old Johnson has 414 yards and three touchdowns on 22 catches in that same span. Despite the fact that everyone knows he’s getting the ball in the red zone, he’s become the most dangerous scoring threat in the league and is undoubtedly the NFL’s best receiver.
With that duo on offense, there isn’t a team the 2011 Lions can’t beat this January. So it’s not out of the question to consider the possibility that, in the same year in which Detroit ended its 12-year playoff drought, it’ll also end its 45-year Super Bowl drought, queueing up the first of a multitude of events that will lead to the inevitable end of the world next December.
The last time the Lions were in the playoffs…
- Stafford was 11; Ndamukong Suh had just turned 13.
- Bill Clinton was president of the United States; George W. Bush was president-elect. Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois, sort of like Angela’s boyfriend in The Office.
- Justin Bieber was 5 years old; Lady Gaga was 13. No one knew what the hell Coldplay was.
- Napster was gaining momentum as MP3 downloading took off.
- Reality TV hardly existed.
- You recorded shows on your VCR.
- AOL and Time Warner were separate companies. Nortel, Adelphia, Enron and WorldCom still existed as companies.
- You didn’t have to remove your shoes to go through airport security.