Christmas Time is Here Again

>> 12.24.2011

It's time.

It's time for family and friends to get together, gather 'round the big blue bonfire and share in the old traditions. We feast in this time of plenty. We sing the song handed down through generations. We stand and cheer the brave.

It's felt like the Lions have been guided by fate this season. The fourth-quarter comebacks, the signature wins, the tough losses to great teams and the blowouts of bad ones.

Though individual games have been surprising, the overall course of the season has followed the rails of conventional wisdom. A fast start, a shaky stretch in the middle, and a bounceback before a tough final three games.

The good news is, everything else has fallen into place around them.

All year, I've been sounding the alarm about Week 17--the final, fateful crucible in Lambeau Field. It's possible, even probable, I've said, that the Lions enter that game at 9-6, needing a win to make all of their dreams--and ours--come true.

Instead, the Lions could clinch this week without winning another game. With losses by the Giants, Cardinals, Seahawks and Bears the Lions' ticket will be punched.

But forget that. Forget backing in. Forget the iron rails of fate. Forget the zodiac and tarot cards and crystal balls and tea leaves. I don't care about any of that stuff.

I care about the Lions winning.

If the Lions can beat the red-hot Chargers tonight, if the Christmas Eve crowd can be merry and bright enough to swing the advantage their way, they'll have wrested the pen away from Fate and inked their own name in the record books.

It's the time we've all been waiting for, chopping the wood for, tending the fire for. It's the time we've spent days upon weeks upon years wondering if it would ever come.

It's time.

Spend tonight in the company of friend and family and good food and good spirits. Cheer the Lions on with all your heart, wherever you may be. Then, win or lose, comfort yourself with family, friends, and faith.

May God bless you all on this sacred night.


So what’s up with Ty?

>> 12.22.2011

So why haven’t I posted in a couple days? A) I came down with a nasty cold on Monday, and it put me almost completely out of commission Tuesday and Wednesday. 2) My laptop power cord died, and after six hours of uselessly wrestling with it Wednesday night and Thursday morning, I broke down and got a new one.

So. First crucial link: my exclusive interview with Justin Durant, over at Bleacher Report.

Second crucial link: Detroit OnLion’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Black Hole.

Thirdly, I’m going on a lyrical rampage tonight. There should be some legit content here and Bleacher Report tomorrow. Many thanks for your patience.


Three Cups Deep: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders

>> 12.20.2011

coffee Let’s get one thing straight right now: nobody controls their own destiny.

It’s impossible; destiny is what’s written in the stars. It’s capital-D Destiny, the end the fates have penned for us. If you believe in Destiny, then you know the story of this Lions season has already been written. We’re just flipping through the pages, week after week, chapter after chapter

No matter what happens in the final chapter, we know this much: it’s a hell of a story.

You know whoever’s got the pen knows exactly what they’re doing. I’ve said before that this Lions team has an identity, and it’s Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and his receivers, as Ndamukong Suh and the defensive line prevent the other side from keeping pace.

Well, Matthew Stafford led a 98-yard comeback drive, capped it off with a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, and Ndamukong Suh (back from suspension) blocked the Raiders’ potential game-winning field goal. The symbolism is so thick Earnest Hemingway could cut it with a knife. In the rain.

The Lions won the game, and as a result they are winners. Not just noble losers, or not-losers, they are winners. They have won more games than they can possibly lose this year, for the first time in over a decade. It’s incredible, it’s unbelievable . . . but is it surprising?

Via text and Twitter, I received messages throughout the game that saw it both ways. Some were sure the Lions had already disappeared, Marty McFly style, from the NFC playoff picture. Some, though, were convinced the Lions had it in the bag—they were just watching to find out how Stafford and company would pull it off this time.

Three seasons ago, the Lions played an entire season and didn’t win a single game. On Sunday, Matthew Stafford had just been sack-fumble-six’d to go down 27-14 with 7:47 on the road in Oakland with the season on the line, and he played like he’d just been waiting for the Raiders to make it interesting.

Stafford kicked it into an incredible gear. He was both more intense and much calmer. His passes, a little sail-y and a little gunslinger-y all day, were laser-guided cotton balls. He shrugged off some excruciating drops, avoided the rush, even took matters into his own hands on 4th-and-2, juking out a linebacker to pick up the game-saving first down.

We knew Matthew Stafford was a gamer when NFL Films mic’d him up for that legendary comeback against the Browns. But we didn’t know if he’d ever be good enough, or he’d ever have a good enough team around him, for the “gamer” thing to matter. What Stafford did that day was nothing short of incredible, and watching it gives me chills to this day.

But he did it to beat a wretched Browns team with a coach who’s coaching his D-III alma mater now and a quarterback who got traded for a backup white running back and made it look like a steal for the team that traded him away. This time, Stafford clutched up to not only beat a playoff contender on the road, he did to to save—and possibly, cement—the Lions’ first playoff campaign in twelve years.

Now, the Lions’ path couldn’t be straighter. They have two games to do what they’ve done nine times already this year: win a game. They win, they’re in—that’s it. That’s the challenge. Unfortunately, the fates have damned the Lions once again: they must either beat one of the most talented teams in football just as they’re hitting their stride, or travel to Lambeau Field and leave with a “W,” which they haven’t done since 1991.

If the last chapter in this story is the NFL playoffs, the Lions are going to have to come up with their most mind-boggling, credulity-straining performance yet. Just the way Matthew Stafford likes it.


Fireside Chat: Detroit Lions vs. Oakland Raiders

>> 12.19.2011

I'm still vibing off this win. It's a watershed moment in the development of this team, these players, and this fanbase. The Lions are WINNERS now, and nothing can take that away from them.

As always, if you dig, please subscribe to the Fireside Chat via iTunes and rate it highly!


Fireside Chat at 10:00 PM EST!

>> 12.18.2011

Y’all. Hit up at 10:00 PM EST.


The Fallen Watchtower: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders


In the excitement of interviewing Brandon Pettigrew (and Justin Durant, keep your eyes peeled), plus adding stat analysis to my weekly film study, PLUS all the various pre-Christmas festivities, it’s been a wild, wild weekend here at TLiW Headquarters.

Normally, I’d power through and do a full Watchtower, but look: Hue Jackson has the most ridiculous resume I’ve ever seen. Since starting out as a grad assistant at Pacific, Jackson has been promoted, or taken a new gig, nearly every single year. He’s worked at almost every level of college, the NFL, and even the World League of American Football. He’s coached under all kinds of coaches in all kinds of systems, from Marty Schottenheimer to Steve Spurrier and everyone in between.

His offensive coordinator is Al Saunders, a prominent disciple of Don Coryell (along with Norv and Ron Turner, Mike Martz, etc.). But I’d need do to some pretty extensive digging to confidently say how much Air Coryell exists in the Raiders’ current attack. So, I punted.

Raiders offense vs. Lions defense

There’ll be no systemic data here, but we can still compare season averages as usual. The Raiders are the 16th-ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 22.3 points per game. They’re averaging 7.14 YpA through the air, and 4.57 YpC on the ground. If this sounds like a very effective dual-threat offense that keeps shooting itself in the foot, you’re right.

Carson Palmer has thrown an interception on 5.9% of his pass attempts, by far the worst in the NFL. Perspective: Rex Grossman is #2 at 4.6%. The Raiders are also the only team that’s kept pace with the Lions’ league-leading 27 personal fouls. The Raiders’ running attack was extremely potent when Darren McFadden was catalyzing it with his 5.4 YpC, but he’s sidelined for the year with a lingering foot injury. Michael Bush and his 3.9 YpC will be carrying the load today.

The Lions defense is allowing 23.5 points per game, 23rd in the NFL. They’re still only allowing 5.82 YpA through the air, and still a whopping 5.10 YpC on the ground. On the whole, they’re a much better defense than their points-per-game shows; they get a lot of three-and-outs and takeaways—but they also get hosed by the offense giving it back, and both sides of the ball commit a lot of penalties.

I'd expect the Lions to force a lot of turnovers today, especially if Suh and the defensive line can generate pressure without the blitz. I project the Raiders to score 17-21 points, passing for 6.00-6.50 YpA and rushing for 4.50-4.75 YpC.

Lions offense vs. Raiders defense

The Lions have been Jekyll and Hyde all season long. Their passing game has been everywhere from dominant to disjointed, and their rushing game has been everything from unstoppable to invisible. On the whole, the Lions are averaging 28.2 points per game, still 4th-best in the NFL. They're still averaging 6.91 YpA, and 3.68 YpC.

Kevin Smith returns (again) this week, so perhaps the running game will be a little closer to the former than the latter. Matthew Stafford has been “on,” or close to it, for three out of the last four weeks. On the average, the Lions’ offense is a less potent-but-more-effective version of the Raiders’. In the specific, when Matthew Jekyll (and his offensive line) shows up the Lions are one of the best offenses going . . . Mr. Jekyll shows up most often against bad passing defenses.

The Raiders are allowing 27.2 points per game, 28th-best (4th-worst) in the NFL. However, like the Lions, their pass defense is quite stout: they’re allowing must 6.24 YpA. But like the Lions, they “can’t stop the run;” they’re allowing a ridiculous 5.24 YpC on the ground.

Though the Lions should do much better than average against the 28th-ranked defense, the Raiders’ tight pass defense and raucous home crowd should depress scoring a bit. I project the Lions to score 28-32 points, averaging 6.75-7.25 YpA and 4.50-4.75 YpC.


Jeremy Reisman of Detroit OnLion will actually be at the game—and not just there, but in Section 104, in the heart of the Black Hole. On last week’s Fireside Chat he promised to wear his Honolulu Blue; please admire his spirit and pray for his safety. If you’re curious how to cheer in non-Lions games, follow Pride of Detroit’s Rooting Guide.

As for the Lions? I project a 30-17 Lions victory, though both numbers could easily be swayed either way by turnovers or penalties.

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