(Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
The Outkick NFL Past Preseason Hype Series will consist of separate posts that examine preseason hype generated by a specific player, coach, or team based on a single performance or a collection of performances during the NFL preseason (Check out the first post: Jake Delhomme 2010).
If you are one who lends any credence to a good preseason record automatically translating to a strong regular season, let the 2008 Detroit Lions knock some sense into you. The ’08 Lions, one of the most infamous teams in NFL history, the first team ever to finish a season 0-16, went 4-0 in the preseason. Undefeated.
If there was any excitement surrounding the Lions entering the preseason in 2008, it was more of the lukewarm ilk. The team was eight years into Matt Millen’s disastrous tenure as general manager where they had already suffered double-digit losses each season from 2001 through 2006. In 2007, after starting off 6-2, they lost seven out of their last eight to finish 7-9. In the offseason, the team made very few notable personnel moves, and the only notable coaching staff change made by Head Coach Rod Marinelli was to replace offensive coordinator Mike Martz with Jim Colleto. The team had few offensive weapons, and was returning veteran, but unspectacular, starting quarterback John Kitna.
But while the excitement level was was meh, each year is a different year, and the Lions at least gave the faithful something to hang their hats on during the preseason. After a 13-10 win over the Giants at home, the Lions crushed the Bengals 27-10 in Cincinnati, and beat the Browns handly at home 26-6. They capped off their undefeated campaign with a 14-6 win in Buffalo which the starters were primarily rested by both teams for almost all of the game. The Detroit Free Press certainly milked the 4-0 record the best they could. Check out the front page of the Sports section the following day:
The undefeated preseason did not impress everyone. In early September, Rick Jakacki of the Port Huron Times-Herald wrote that fans should not “be fooled by Lions’ 4-0 preseason mark,” because the “games mean almost nothing,” and he didn’t “see enough areas of improvement to believe the Lions all of a sudden are a team to be reckoned with.” However, some really felt the positive momentum. Running back Kevin Smith said (via the Free Press) that the Lions would make the playoffs and win a playoff game. He also set a personal goal of 20 touchdowns, that would break Barry Sanders team record by three TDs.
Despite the “perfect” preseason, almost every one of ESPN’s stable of experts still predicted the Lions to finish last in their division. Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks had the Lions repeating their 7-9 record from the previous season. Four out of five of surveyed Detroit Free Press sportswriters thought the team wouldn’t make the playoffs, although 0-16 was far from the realm of possibility in their minds.
The lone Free Press writer who had Lions going to the playoffs, Nicholas Cotsonika, also predicted that the team would start 4-0:
After the Lions’ last preseason game Cotsonika said that “while people brush off the Lions’ perfect preseason–cynical after seven straight losing seasons and a half-centry of disappointment – what would people be saying if the Lions went 0-4? That it was meaningless? That it doesn’t mean they are bad?”
The Free Press’ sportswriters may not have been confident, but many of their readers were drinking the kool-aid, including one man from Ypsilanti who said that the Lions would go 12-4 and Kitna would make the Pro Bowl:
Also, look at this Free Press fan poll from just before the regular season began. 42.3% voted that the Lions would have between eight or nine wins wins.
Those fans were wrong. The season was an absolute dumpsterfire. After an 0-3 start, Matt Millen was fired as GM during the bye week. The team finished 31-84 losses under his watch. Kitna injured his back during the fourth game and was put on injured reserve a few weeks later. New Quarterback Dan Orlovsky didn’t fair much better. In week 6 in Minnesota, Orlovsky starred in one of the more infamous plays of the decade:
The Lions ended up losing to the Vikings 12-10.
After two more losses, the Lions decided Orlovsky wasn’t gonna cut it and instead signed former Vikings star Duante Culpepper out of retirement. He lasted four games before getting hurt. The Lions closed out their merciless 2008 campaign with a 31-21 loss to the Packers in Green Bay. Lions’ radio play-by-play analyst Dan Miller, did not mince his words as the clock was ticking down:
“Clock ticks down here in Green Bay. The Lions find themselves in a very familiar position. For 16 weeks, starting in Atlanta back in September, they took the field thinking this was gonna be their day. Sixteen times they were wrong, and now there are no Sundays left. By record, they are the worst team in league history. Zero and sixteen, those are the numbers that will forever be associated with the Detroit Lions.”
Marinelli and most of his staff were fired. Just goes to show how far a great preseason record will take you.
Fred Segal is an attorney from West Palm Beach, FL. He operates the popular Freezing Cold Takes twitter account (@OldTakesExposed) which highlights, among other things, hilarious unprophetic and inaccurate takes and predictions.