As we inch closer and closer to the new NFL season, we look throughout each league’s 16 teams and ponder which teams need to show up this year. Some of these teams are proven winners throughout history that have fallen on hard times. Others may be teams with next to no past success but are on the brink of having something magical. If you haven’t figured it out already, the question I am asking here is this: Which teams have the most to prove this season? There are several teams that one could say are going to be playing with some sort of monkey on their back. But a few of them need to prove they have what it takes to be in that upper echelon of teams in the NFL.
Time for the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Bucs to Show Up or Shut Up
Are the Lions the Real Deal?
The first team that I want to prove to me that they belong is one that I hold near and dear to my heart, the Detroit Lions. As a longtime fan of this seemingly perpetually losing team, hope always seems to return with the fresh beginning of the new league season. This hope is especially strong this year with the outstanding off-season the Lions had. Over the years, the Lions have become the lovable losers of the NFL. They always find new and innovative ways to lose the most meaningful games of their season, year after year after year. People always ask me, “Why are you still a Lions fan?” Well the answer to that probably lies in my childhood, but in reality, I’m probably just crazy and maybe slightly a masochist in this regard. But this year, THIS YEAR, is different!
General manager Bob Quinn is at the helm picking and choosing the personnel that he believes will build a winning team. Fresh off of a 9-7 Wild Card berth in a year that included an NFL record eight comeback wins, they continued to build in spots that help you win championships. The Lions signed proven right tackle Ricky Wagner and Pro Bowl (and hometown boy) guard TJ Lang. Lions fans can rest easy being able to expect Matthew Stafford to have another great year. Quinn also continued to build on the trench philosophy in the draft by grabbing Jarrad Davis in the first round before switching to another team need in the secondary with his second pick in Teez Tabor. Both of those guys are high upside players with Davis possibly becoming the leader that defense has always been asking for.
The health of this team will be of utmost importance, even more so now with them already losing rookie standout left tackle Taylor Decker for up to six months due to shoulder surgery. Even with that injury, I still feel that this Lions team just looks different to me and in a good way. But this is all on paper. Is this Lions team that’s now made the playoffs in two of the past three years the real deal? Were those comeback wins actually the talent and resilience of a good team and not just lucky fluke ordeals?
This team needs to prove that they are a winning franchise. The grouping of words “Lions” and “winning franchise” is not something we’ve heard in a long, LONG time, but this may be the real deal now. They did things right in the off-season, now they have to do them right on the field. So many questions are asked about this team on whether or not they have what it takes. For me to take a Lions team seriously as a perennial contender, they need to prove it. So now is the time to make things happen.
Now that my homer-ific rant about my Detroit Lions is over, I can get on with my next pick for the team that needs to prove themselves as a contender this year: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs finished last season with a 9-7 record, but just missed out on a playoff spot. This team has steadily improved over the recent years behind the progression of a young quarterback by the name of Jameis Winston.
This off-season, however, has been one of the better off-seasons by a team in the NFL. The addition of a dangerous downfield threat in DeSean Jackson to lineup opposite Mike Evans is an immediate offensive upgrade. Their slot receiver in Adam Humphries is no slouch either and will get plenty of targets this year. Winston will have a multitude of weapons to target in the passing game.
And then they went and added O.J. Howard in the draft. Howard is a guy that is expected to be a stud in the NFL and for good reason. He has great size, speed, and ability. Having just one of those can make for a solid player as a tight end, and he has all three. You pair him with Cameron Brate, and Tampa may have found their own version of what Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were for one year.
To expect anything less than an elite passing game in Tampa Bay would be under estimating them. This is on top of a solid backfield in Doug Martin (pending his health), Charles Sims, and Jacquizz Rodgers. I’ve always believed that to win in the NFL, you need to be GREAT on one side of the ball. It would be all peaches and daisies if you could be great at both, but that isn’t a sustainable philosophy anymore. In today’s game if you want to win, pick a side of the ball, be great at it, and then build the other side to be solid enough. It’s the mindset that many Super Bowl winning teams have gone with in the last decade or so. The Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, and Seattle Seahawks are all examples of this. The Bucs are finally buying in to this philosophy.
With some bad to solid at best play over the last five-ish years for them, this is the year they need to step up. With all of these additions, and with a young quarterback beginning to come in to his own, they need to start winning now. I have big time expectations for a team that has made some big time moves in Tampa Bay, as should all of you.
Even though we move closer and closer as the days go by, it still feels like the NFL season is miles away. That doesn’t mean we can’t have expectations for teams we want to see win. Each and every year, there’s that one team who is on the cusp, and we think they will make that leap forward into greatness, but never do. While the teams that make up that list may change, the expectations and wishes always remain the same. Just win, baby, win.