Last season, I published a two-parter called “Completely Useless Waste of Time”. I broke down each Lions opponent on the schedule, and projected the Lions’ wins and losses. I called the exercise a completely useless waste of time, because the NFL is so volatile from year to year, there’s really no point in trying to project outcomes. What you end up doing is projecting how a team’s offseason changes would make them better or worse in the previous season . . . not useful, or worthwhile.
I said in the conclusion of that piece:
The funny thing, to me, is that we can’t really know how the Lions will play until we see them on the field. In fact, we can’t really know how any team will play, in any year, until we see them on the field. In the modern NFL, turnover is so high—both on rosters and coaching staffs—and the Xs-and-Os arms race is almost inconceivably fast. New schemes and plans that work incredibly well Week 1 are neutralized by Week 16. Players that come out of nowhere to surprise opponents are scouted, mapped, and game-planned out of existence in weeks (see Gado, Samkon). You can’t possibly look at a team’s roster and record, add what got added, subtract what got subtracted, and extrapolate a conclusion; it just doesn’t work that way—and the 2007 and 2008 Lions are indelible proof of that.But . . . what else are we supposed to do? With free agency, the draft, and OTAs all in the history books, or nearly so, we have 32 teams with set roster and schedules, and nothing at all to talk about until minicamps. Indeed, even The Lions Congregation dwelt upon the subject of possible wins and losses this week. Well, I figured, since we’re all killing time, why not waste some time?
Football teams are incredibly complex systems. They’re full of moving parts, developing young players, declining veterans, deep emotional connections, public and private strife, inches and yards, breaks and bounces, injuries, turnovers, and lucky breaks. They’re coaches sleeping at their desks, and coaches hitting the golf course at noon. They’re a superior training staff, or a staph-infected trainer’s room. There are a hundred thousand million tiny variables that factor into the on-field performance of an NFL club. Every single season, each NFL club is a new thing, a new potion, a new mix of hundred different reactive ingredients; they must be evaluated on a case-by-case, year-by-year basis. Moreover, there’s a reason they say “That’s why they play the games”. There’s a reason they say "On any given Sunday . . .", the better team doesn’t always win. You can’t say right now whether the Lions will win or lose against any other team, because you don’t know how good the Lions are, and you don’t know how good the other teams are, and you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen when helmets and pads clash between them.
To that end, I’ve begun a series of opponent scouting reports over at Mlive.com’s Highlight Reel blog. More than the couple-of-paragraph treatment I gave the opponents last time, but less than a full-on Watchtower, these weekly pieces will be breaking down the 13 teams on the Lions’ schedule, pointing out the critical pieces of these teams, and how they interact with the Lions’. I’m not doing predictions, but I’m laying down dots and offering you, the reader, a crayon to connect them with.