The Detroit Tigers broke me.
I thought they were going to have a solid season. I’m not talking about getting to the World Series or even the playoffs.
But I was convinced they would play meaningful games late in the season. All of the additions seemed to plug the major holes. I was in favor of signing Javier Baez and trading for Tucker Barnhart, even bringing back Robbie Grossman. Everything made sense to me, including acquiring Austin Meadows.
At the very least, I thought they would be relevant.
Then, obviously, it all ended up in the crapper — that’s what my dad used to call the outhouse we dug when we went deer hunting near West Branch.
Now, as September approaches, my boss is asking me to make predictions about the football season, a task that I’m finding difficult. Because I’m still broken, still viewing everything through the lens of a failed baseball team.
So how will the Lions do?
There is a part of me that believes this team is heading in the right direction.
General manager Brad Holmes has made some smart draft decisions. I have gone to practices and can see positive signs. I read the reports from Indianapolis and I see hope. Yeah, sure, they got punched in the face on the first day of joint practices against the Indianapolis Colts. But the Lions responded the next day with an improved performance. That’s — say it all together now — grit, baby!
I look at the Lions’ offensive line and think they are building something here. They should be able to run the ball. They have some legit wide receivers, even if the best one can’t play for a while.
I watch “Hard Knocks” and I’m firmly aboard the Dan Campbell train. I believe in Campbell. I believe in this coaching staff. I love their approach. If nothing else, it’s entertaining and different. And I believe things are going to get better.
I start to string together conditions: if the vets play up to expectations and if these rookies can perform at a reasonable level and if the second-year players continue to improve and if they can just stay away from major injuries, this team could be interesting, this team could be relevant, this team could play meaningful games later in the … wait a second.
Then I remember: “THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT THE TIGERS, AND LOOK HOW THAT TURNED OUT!”
The Tigers’ Achilles heal has been their offense — darn near everybody they put in the batting lineup has had a sub-par season.
The Lions’ Achilles heal is their defense — it was one of the worst in the NFL in 2021.
Sure, the Lions added some fine pieces like Aidan Hutchinson.
But that defense still has far too many holes and not enough playmakers, and I wonder if that will kill the entire season, even if they have a solid offense.
I mean, look at the Tigers. They have gotten tremendous pitching this season but can’t win because their offense is so bad.
Will we see the same thing, in reverse, from the Lions? A solid offense with a bad defense and a whole bunch of frustrating losses?
Back and forth I go.
Maybe, you have heard of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
Well, I have seen something far worse. I have seen Al Avila’s Law of Recurring Nightmares: Everything that could go wrong, well, got vertigo, missed time, got COVID-19, missed time, strained Achilles in both legs, missed time, tried to come back and then got sore again.
And that was just one guy — Meadows’ curious, strange season.
You could write a book on everything that has gone wrong this season for the Tigers and Avila’s Recurring Nightmare ended with him getting fired.
So even though my head says the Lions could win eight games this year. … Maybe play some interesting games late in the season. … Maybe fight for second place behind the Green Bay Packers.
My broken crystal ball won’t let it, and I settle on six wins. Seven if they get lucky.
Following up a CFP berth
Then my boss says, we need predictions about Michigan and Michigan State.
Ugh, I hate predictions. Seasons are messy, unpredictable dramas filled with injuries, surprises and disappointments. Preseason predictions never seem to take that into account. They are either filled with hope or pessimism, rarely do they find the grey area in between, where most seasons end up.
But alas, let’s start with Michigan.
I look at that early schedule and I think: cupcake city!
The first four games are basically scrimmages. I don’t care who is at quarterback, it would be surprising if they aren’t 7-0 heading into the Michigan State game.
I hear a glowing report from the Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine, who got to watch a practice and promptly reported the Wolverines’ offense was humming; Cade McNamara was making great decisions and the ball never hit the ground.
I think about Donovan Edwards running behind a strong offensive line and weapons all over the field, and I think: This team could be undefeated going into Ohio State week.
Then, the Tigers season comes to mind: “Don’t fall for it. Michigan lost a bunch on defense, not to mention a defensive coordinator. Even though this team made the Final Four, it wasn’t truly an elite-level team. Georgia proved that.”
My half-full glass shatters.
Coach Jim Harbaugh says this team’s goals are to beat MSU and Ohio State in the same year (in the same decade doesn’t count), win the Big Ten title and win the national championship.
But what if they do none of those things? That seems entirely possible. Ohio State is stacked and Harbaugh has yet to beat MSU coach Mel Tucker.
So I settle on 10-2.
No win over the Buckeyes, no Big Ten title game and certainly no natty.
How high can Sparty fly?
Finally, we get to Michigan State.
I believe in what Tucker is doing. He’s a heck of a coach and he’s owned Harbaugh (yes, small sample size).
I assume that defense is going to improve — it can’t get any worse, right?
The Spartans return quarterback Payton Thorne, who set the single-season passing record with 27 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. The biggest improvement happens between Year 1 and Year 2, right?
I start to wonder: What if MSU beats Michigan again? What if Tucker finds another star in the transfer portal? What if everything clicks and the Spartans take another jump to another level under Tucker?
Vegas has the Spartans at 7.5 wins and man, that seems low.
But then, memories of the Tigers come to mind and I think about all those strikeouts. About all those underachieving players. About how Spencer Torkelson got sent down to Toledo and Riley Greene started to struggle.
The failures of one team in one sport should not impact another team. It’s not logical. But that’s what I’m struggling with. All this losing, from all these Detroit teams has finally caught up to me. And I wonder if it’s doing the same to others across Michigan.
We have all seen — far too many times — how things can go miserably wrong.
So I start to wonder: How are the Spartans gonna replace Kenneth Walker III? What if he was the real reason for MSU’s success last year? What if you take him off this team and it all starts to crumble?
The Spartans play both Michigan and Penn State on the road, a tall task.
So I settle on eight wins.
But I hope I’m wrong.
I hope I’m wrong about the Lions and Michigan, too. As a sports journalist, I do not root for a team. I root for the best stories. And I’m so sick of writing about losing teams, so sick of injuries and under-performing veterans and disappointing endings and losses.
Oh, so many freakin’ losses.
It would be an amazing story if, for one fall, the Lions, Wolverines and Spartans all got it together.
Can you imagine how cool that would be around here? It would be electric.
The stories would be incredible. But I have to admit that my enthusiasm is tempered. Don’t blame me.
Blame the Law of Al Avila’s Recurring Nightmares.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.