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The league
Posted at 11:52 AM ET, 10/12/2011

Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills are proving pundits wrong


Fred Jackson and the Bills are one of the NFL’s biggest surprises in 2011. (Rick Stewart - Getty Images)
Preseason predictions in any sport mean absolutely nothing. It’s a fun way for the media and fans to get hyped for the regular season but it’s not like players and coaches are concerned about who prognosticators predict to win the Super Bowl.

That said, it is interesting to look back at how the “experts” whiffed when it came to predicting the success of the Lions and Bills. Granted, there’s still plenty of time for both teams to fall flat on their faces (after all, the Lions were 6-2 in 2007 before losing seven of their last eight to finish 8-8 7-9) and to be fair, there were several pundits who believed Detroit would make the playoffs as a wild card. But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would have laid money on Detroit and Buffalo being a combined 9-1 at this point in the season.

Thus, what did pundits miss that prevented them from believing the Lions and Bills would be this good (at least record-wise)? Here are a couple thoughts.

The pass protection

Both teams were expected to be hampered by their offensive lines and yet outside of the Titans, no team has been better in pass protection than Buffalo. Third-year players Andy Levitre and Eric Wood have really come into their own while Fred Jackson has stepped up his efforts in pass protection as well. The Bills blew it in 2009 with the selection of mega-bust Aaron Maybin, but give Buffalo credit for also pulling the trigger on Wood and Levitre in that same draft. They were dedicated to rebuilding their O-line and now they’re starting to reap the rewards.

As for the Lions, their pass protection hasn’t been great but it’s certainly been much better than people expected coming into the season. While Jeff Backus continues to be exploited at tackle, veteran Dominic Raiola has made up for his poor run blocking with solid pass protection and the same can be said for Stephen Peterman. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has also come a long way as a pass blocker since his rookie year in ‘09.
Detroit’s improved pass protection is helping Megatron flourish. (Rick Osentoski - AP)

Stephen Tulloch and the Lions’ pass coverage

Diehard Lions fans have been clamoring for their team to upgrade the linebacker position and for years Detroit has struck out in either free agency or the draft. But GM Martin Mayhew found a couple of gems this offseason in former-Titan Stephen Tulloch and ex-Jaguar Justin Durant. In fact, there may not have been a more underrated free agent signing this offseason than Tulloch, who has been outstanding in coverage and even better against the run. Granted, he benefits greatly from playing behind the likes of Ndamukong Suh, but to suggest that Tulloch’s success has been the sole product of Detroit’s line would be a fallacy. He’s been the Lions’ best defender this season while Durant and Bobby Carpenter have played better than expected as well. And speaking of overachieving, the Lions’ pass coverage has been among the league’s best so far. Mayhew gave up very little to acquire corner Chris Houston from Atlanta two seasons ago and he’s starting to find himself in Gunther Cunningham’s scheme, while Louis Delmas continues to be one of the better young safeties in the league. The Lions’ ability to generate a pass rush with their front four has a lot to do with the back seven’s success but even so, nobody expected Detroit’s back seven to be one of the team’s strengths.

The passing games

Many pundits wrote this preseason that if Matthew Stafford stayed healthy, the Lions’ passing attack would be well above average. After all, he does have Calvin Johnson to throw to and outside of maybe Wes Welker, nobody has been more productive this season from the wide receiver position than Megatron.

Experts also recognized that Ryan Fitzpatrick was better than most realized and that the Bills had plenty of weapons as well. But did anyone expect Detroit and Buffalo to own two of the top eight passing attacks in the league? From a passer-rating standpoint, they’ve been better than the Chargers, better than Steelers, and certainly better than the Eagles. It all starts with the play of Stafford and Fitzpatrick, who have outperformed the likes of Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, and Ben Roethlisberger. The NFL is a passing league and both of these teams have proven that they can beat opponents through the air.

By Anthony Stalter  |  11:52 AM ET, 10/12/2011

Tags:  Anthony Stalter

 
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