Hapless Lions placing Detroit in uproar

October 17, 2001 2:24 AM
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The past weekend of NFL action featured some fantastic matchups, including the Ravens versus the Packers, the Giants versus the Rams and the Raiders versus the Colts, but somehow the schedule makers decided to make the Redskins at the Cowboys the Monday night showdown.

This battle between maybe the two worst teams in the league highlights the depths some franchises sink to as old stars leave and are replaced by young, unproven talent. As we have seen over the last few seasons, it doesn’t take long to get good in the NFL, but teams can fall off the face of the earth just as quickly.

Of course, just because a team is bad, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t cover the spread, or even win the game from time to time. The Cardinals performance at the Eagles a couple of weeks ago is certainly proof of that. As the season wears on and the pretenders fall off in the playoff races, we will see more games in which really bad teams jump up and cover the number, or win the game, straight up.

For example, last season the Bears began 1-7 and were just 3-5 against the spread in their first eight games. Chicago wasn’t going to make a playoff push, and really had very little to play for, but still went 4-4 straight up and 4-3-1 ATS in the second half.

The Bengals also started terribly, opening with a six-game losing streak before winning the next two. Cincinnati was just 1-4-1 ATS in the first six games, but improved to 6-4 over their last 10 including four straight SU victories.

The San Diego Chargers, which won just one game last season, managed a 7-9 ATS mark after beginning 1-5.

This season we’ve already seen that there are quite a few very bad teams in the league. Both the Cowboys and Redskins are awful, as are the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills.

It seems that part of the Cowboys game plan this season was to stink. Why else would they entrust their offense to Anthony Wright and Quincy Carter, and then go out and sign Ryan Leaf? The Cowboys have a solid offensive line, Emmitt Smith, Joey Galloway, and nobody to orchestrate the offense around those players.

Defensively, they have improved in their ability to stop the run, but they are still atrocious against the pass, and not nearly big enough on the line. The only thing that may keep the Cowboys from finishing with the worst record in the league is the division they play in. The Cowboys get to play the Cardinals twice still this season, the Redskins one more time, and have non-conference dates with the Lions and Falcons.

The Redskins may be in the worst shape of any franchise in the league. They are aging, saddled with salary cap problems and in the midst of changing from an old contender to a young team in the process of rebuilding. The most important thing for the Redskins this season is to keep head coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Schottenheimer knows how to build a winner in the NFL and, if given the time, will be successful in Washington. There are some pieces to build around in D.C. Lavar Arrington, Stephen Davis and Rod Gardner are all very talented, but until the Redskins can find some offensive line help, a quarterback and learn how to tackle on defense, they have little chance to win on Sundays, Mondays, or any day of the week.

It is possible, though, that neither of those teams is the worst in the NFC. The Detroit Lions, with a new head coach and team president, have looked as bad as anyone.

Ty Detmer threw seven interceptions against the Browns and the Lions have been pasted in each of their games, heading into this weekend’s game against the Vikings. The Lions went 9-7 last year, missing the playoffs but with some hope for this season. Injuries to their secondary, as well as the lack of development from quarterback Charlie Batch, will keep the Lions out of the playoffs again this season.

One AFC squad sinking to the depths of the NFC’s worst teams is Buffalo. The Bills haven’t been this poor since the mid-1980’s. Winning more than one game might be a serious problem for this franchise. Besides the free agent and front office exodus experienced over the off-season, injuries have hurt the team.

Linebacker Sam Cowart, the unit’s best player and leader, is gone for the season. Quarterback Rob Johnson may be the most injury-prone player in the game, seemingly going down every week.

All of these teams lack the talent to compete on a weekly basis, but they will all come close to pulling off an upset or two. This factor makes them interesting for the bettor to watch as the season goes on.