Imperfect storm: Lions have legitimate shot at an 0-16 season

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I know what you're thinking, Cincinnati fans. What about our 0-7 Bengals? Why the disrespect of their hard-earned futility? To that I say, let's not forget that Marvin Lewis's club took the defending Super Bowl champions into overtime on the road in Week 3, so if you're going to flirt with victory to that degree, you're not going to elicit our unwavering confidence when it comes to assuring weekly failure.

No, for me it's the 0-6 Lions who represent that last bastion of NFL consistency, a beacon of deficiency and defeat amid an almost league-wide sea of uncertainty and unpredictability. Detroit is solid, like a very heavy rock sinking ever lower to the depths, and there's a growing sense of perfect imperfection to these Lions that I'm starting to appreciate.

This is a team that has been outscored 54-0 in the first quarter this season, and has trailed 21-0 in three of its six games. This is a team that has lost 13 of its past 14 games dating to last year's second-half collapse, and hasn't won a road game in nearly a year (since Week 8 last year, at Chicago). This is a team that already has fired its general manager (Matt Millen), traded a starting receiver (Roy Williams) and lost its starting quarterback (Jon Kitna), without any of those moves providing the least bit of spark or a changing of its sad-sack karma.

Other than the expansion Texans, only three NFL teams have yet to make the playoffs this decade. The Bills (not since 1999) and Cardinals (not since 1998) are in first place in their respective divisions and will be in January's Super Bowl tournament. And then there are the Lions, who haven't sniffed the playoffs since 1999. See what I mean about being dependable?

I know it's early, and anything (surprisingly positive) could still happen in these last 10 weeks, but I'm starting to think Rod Marinelli's team is going to make a real run at this 0-for-2008 thing. Seriously. (As I wrote that, I found myself humming Lennon: "You can say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.'')

Sure, it's hard to go 0-16. The Dolphins proved that last season, winning despite themselves in overtime in Week 15 against Baltimore. But when you look at the final 10 games of Detroit's schedule, and factor in the Lions' reliability, a winless season is a real possibility. And I'm not even the first guy to broach the topic. Lions starting center Dominic Raiola took care of that in Detroit's post-game locker room on Sunday in Houston, following the 28-21 loss to a Texans team that had entered the game at 1-4.

"I'm not saying the season's done yet because we can beat some teams,'' Raiola said. "I'm not even looking at 0-16. But I didn't think we'd be in this situation. I don't think anyone did.''

Over their final 10 games, the Lions play six at home. Strangely enough, I think that works against them, because their two worst losses this year were at Ford Field, where the level of disgust with the local football club is at least approaching an all-time high (and that's saying something in Detroit, folks): A 48-25 loss to Green Bay in Week 2, and 34-7 to Chicago in Week 5. True, Millen's not around to beat up any more, but I have a feeling Lions fans have other targets at which to vent their frustration in the final six home games of the season.

As Raiola said Sunday: "We've gotta go home and get one. I don't know who's going to be there, to be honest. I mean, they don't want to see 0-6, you know.''

We know, Dom. We know. It could get ugly under the big top in downtown Detroit before this baby is put to bed for the year. And who could blame Lions fans for that?

Clear-eyed assessment of Detroit's remaining 10 opponents reveals there's not really a soft touch among them. I'm being honest when I say it's not even a stretch that eight of those 10 could make the playoffs. Only two of them currently have losing records, and at 3-4, both the Saints and Vikings are still viable contenders in their divisions.

But don't take my word for it alone, check out Detroit's schedule and come to your own conclusion. Who do the Lions beat among the following?:

They're home against Washington (5-2) in Week 8, at Chicago (4-3) in Week 9; home against road-tested Jacksonville (3-3) in Week 10; at unbeaten-at-home Carolina (4-2) in Week 11; home against Tampa Bay (4-2) in Week 12; home against undefeated Tennessee (6-0) on Thanksgiving in Week 13; home against Minnesota (3-4) in Week 14; at Indianapolis (3-3) in Week 15; home against New Orleans (3-4) in Week 16; and at Green Bay (4-3) in Week 17.

See what I mean? This thing could happen. Maybe the Vikings or the Colts could be out of it by then and succumb to Detroit, or maybe the Lions could rise up and pull one of their Turkey Day upsets over the cruising Titans. But I'm pretty sure Detroit is going to get to 0-10 or 0-11 before it even gets to the portion of its schedule where victory might be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

In this new world order that prevails in 2008, the Patriots aren't the Patriots any more, and we're not sure what has happened to the Colts, Chargers, Cowboys or Seahawks. But thankfully the Lions are still the Lions, and because of it, there's at least one fixed point that we can set our NFL compass to in this most unpredictable of seasons.

• Could the Cowboys' meltdown this month be traced to "the Curse of Hard Knocks?'' Nobody who has been featured in the popular HBO training camp documentary series has done all that well, if you stop and think about it.

Kansas City went 4-12 after its turn before the cameras in 2007. Jacksonville missed the playoffs at 9-7 in 2004. Dallas was 5-11 in 2002, and Baltimore in 2001 was the only team to make the postseason after giving HBO the all-access treatment. Then again, the Ravens were the defending Super Bowl champions that year, and they only mustered a 10-6 wild-card finish, winning just one playoff game before losing in the divisional round.

• With San Francisco's Mike Nolan now joining Oakland's Lane Kiffin and St. Louis's Scott Linehan in the ranks of fired head coaches, there goes the guy that just last week I had elevated to the top spot on my forthcoming monthly installment of the coaches on the hot seat report. Coaching in the NFL wasteland that is the Bay Area is obviously no easy gig these days, with neither the Raiders nor 49ers having made the playoffs since 2002.

• Is there some kind of new league rule that a team can't have more than one Roy Williams on the active roster at the same time for longer than a week? Almost as soon the Cowboys traded for receiver Roy Williams, they lost safety Roy Williams for the season after he re-broke the same arm he had injured earlier this year. And I was just getting used to referring to the ex-Lions receiver as Roy E. Williams.

• I realize a trip overseas must be a huge disruption for the Chargers and Saints about now, but all I know is every year the NFL has played a midseason game in London, the eventual Super Bowl champion has come out of the game. Thanks to the Giants, that streak is for all of one year in a row.

(Disclaimer: Since Chargers-Saints was my preseason Super Bowl pick, I'm hoping the trend continues).

• The more I hear about Larry Johnson, the more I wonder why any woman in any Kansas City nightclub would go anywhere near the Chiefs lout of a running back.

• The Patriots ran over Denver on Monday night to the tune of 257 rushing yards, their highest one-game total since December 1985. That makes it official. The 4-3 Broncos are defenseless, unable to stop either the pass or the run. The Chargers might still be playing sub-.500 ball, but they're going to win the AFC West by default.

• With Rodney Harrison lost for the season with a torn quad that very well might end his 15-year NFL career, I'd be surprised if the Patriots don't show interest in re-signing veteran safety John Lynch, who spent the preseason with New England.

• When the 49ers elevated Mike Singletary to replace Mike Nolan, it was intended to provide a sense of continuity. It did. Mike is still far and away the most popular first name among NFL head coaches, with six of them currently dotting the league landscape: Atlanta's Mike Smith, Denver's Mike Shanahan, Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, Seattle's Mike Holmgren, and Singletary.

• It does make you wonder how the NFL can consider a move to 18 regular season games with such a dearth of quarterbacking talent currently within the league. Just check out how teams did on Sunday playing guys who were or are their team's No. 2 QBs: Detroit lost with Dan Orlovsky, Seattle lost with Seneca Wallace, Dallas lost with Brad Johnson, Cincinnati lost with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kansas City lost with its whole mediocre collection of passers on display.

• If Brady Quinn can't get into the game when Browns starter Derek Anderson has a 14 of 37 passing day for 136 yards, as Anderson did in a 14-11 loss at Washington, what's it going to take to see Cleveland's 2007 first-round pick get his shot?