In 2011, the Detroit Lions opened the season at 5-0, finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
A year ago, Jim Schwartz's club won only four games all season. The Lions split their first eight contests and ended 2012 on an eight-game losing streak.
So what can we expect in 2013?
There is this to consider. Detroit was the only team in the division not to win at least 10 games last season. And Schwartz's club laid a goose egg when facing their divisional rivals a year ago (0-6).
But hope springs eternal. And it is onto 2013 and here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the Detroit Lions:
QB Matthew Stafford: After throwing for 5,038 yards and leading the Lions to the playoffs in 2011, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft (who was just rewarded with a three-year contract extension) totaled 4,967 through the air last season. But Stafford saw his end zone production basically cut in half, throwing 20 touchdown passes (17 interceptions) in 2012 after connecting for 41 scores (16 interceptions) the previous season. The Detroit signal-caller will also have three new starters on the offensive line this year.
RB Reggie Bush: The one-time New Orleans Saints jack-of-all-trades turned Miami Dolphins workhorse runner now makes his home in the Motor City, where he will team with emerging back Mikel Leshoure. In two seasons in Miami, Bush ran for a combined 2,072 yards in 31 games, nearly the same number of rushing yards he amassed in five seasons (60 games) with the Saints (2,090). He remains a viable receiving threat out of the backfield, something the Lions intend on taking advantage of.
WR Calvin Johnson: What more can you say about perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL? It's hard to argue against Johnson after a 2012 season in which he led the NFL with 122 catches and set a single-season record for receiving yards (1,964). But he only scored five touchdowns, surprising considering production. But good luck when it comes to covering Johnson, who should benefit even more with wideout Nate Burleson healthy again. Could "Megatron" actually total 2,000-plus yards receiving in 2013?
DE Ezekial "Ziggy" Ansah: With the release of veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch and the free agent departure of Cliff Avril (Seattle Seahawks), the Lions will have a pair of new starters at defensive end. Jason Jones will line up on the left side and Ansah, the fifth overall pick in April's draft, is expected to start on the right side. The former BYU product totaled 13.5 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks last season, his first as a starter. Avril (9.5) and Vanden Bosch (3.5) combined for 13 of the team's 34 sacks in 2012.
FS Glover Quin: The one-time cornerback turned free safety could be an excellent addition to a Lions secondary that never seems to get any better and also never appears to be healthy. In four seasons with the Houston Texans, Quin totaled just five interceptions but also recovered three fumbles and knocked down nearly 50 passes. The Lions are hoping he can come up with some more big plays this season. A year ago, Detroit totaled only 17 takeaways in 16 games.
So what can we expect from the Lions in 2013? Was 2012 a fluke after reaching the playoffs the previous season? Is Schwartz on the hot seat? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? It will be interesting to see if the Lions can escape the NFC North basement, where they landed last season.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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