Which Detroit team will give us championship hopes next?

Detroit fans pin their hopes on young stars Matthew Stafford, Michael Fulmer, and Reggie Jackson.

The summer is finally officially here, which typically means that people throughout Michigan, after suffering through a long, cold winter and a topsy-turvy spring, are elated.

Still, not everyone is feeling rosy and upbeat these days. The reason why: the woes of the four major Detroit professional sports teams.

The Lions, Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers have all given Detroit fans a reason to pause for concern, in one way or another, over the last year.

From the Pistons, Red Wings and Tigers missing out on the postseason to the Lions backing into the playoffs and failing once they got there yet again, they’ve all provided valid reasons for fans to begin to lose hope.      

It is true that some of Detroit’s teams have a more uncertain future than others, though. The two Ilitch family properties definitely come to mind: the Red Wings and Tigers. And the Pistons aren’t far behind, with fans growing sour of supposed franchise cornerstones Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

None of the four major Detroit professional sports teams are legitimate title contenders at the moment.

Detroit fans, sad but true, have to start accepting that it might be a long time until one of their teams wins a championship again.

The last pro sports organization based in Motown to win one were the 2007–08 Detroit Red Wings.

The long title drought has Motown’s sports fanatics clamoring for those Wings of yesteryear, and feeling nostalgic about other past championship teams, such as the “Going to Work” 2003-04 Pistons.

2013 Tigers were the last best chance at a title

Heck, as a Tigers fan, I dream of 2006 all the time, although the then Jim Leyland-led Tigers didn’t capture a championship. At times, I would even like to go back in time to the 2013 MLB postseason, although that ended in highly disappointing fashion for the Tigs, too.

The Tigers fell short of reaching the World Series, at least partially due to the heroics of David “Big Papi” Ortiz in game two of the American League Championship Series. He delivered a game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning, and former Tigers “great” Jarrod Saltalamacchia knocked in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth. Then, the Tigers couldn’t muster a run in game three back at Comerica Park, falling behind in the series, 2-1.

The Tigers dropped the series in six games, and the Red Sox went on to win the Fall Classic. Little did we know then, but that was the last time the Tigers were talented enough to capture a Fall Classic, despite also making the postseason in 2014 with the ill-equipped Brad Ausmus at the helm.    

Man, am I a glutton for punishment or what, reliving those memories and taking you guys along for the ride? However, I would give up a lot of my favorite things, including my go-to snack of pretzels and peanut butter, in order to watch those 2013 Tigers again, which featured Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello all in one rotation. Remember, those Tigers also had an effective Anibal Sanchez, who led the entire league with a 2.57 earned run average.

The 2017 Sanchez is a shell of his old self, and the Tigers, in last place, are far from relevant, and need to start thinking about building for the future, if they haven’t already.

Are the Lions poised to win in the playoffs?

The Tigers used to be the Detroit pro sports squad with the best championship hopes.

That label presently belongs to the Lions, with arguably the best general manager in town in Bob Quinn and Matthew Stafford under center. I hope you didn’t faint after reading that sentence.

Now, as much as that is true about the Jim Caldwell-led squad, remember the Lions are still not viewed as the best team in their own division, the NFC North. That’s why I stated earlier that none of Motown’s four pro sports organizations currently are legitimate title contenders.

The Green Bay Packers, with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, are still the class of the division. Largely due to his superb arm, the Packers have won five of the last seven NFC North division crowns.

It’s also important to take into account that as the Packers’ starter, he has recorded a losing record in a season only once, and it came all the way back in 2008.

Why is that significant, you may ask? Well, it was the first season in which he started all 16 regular season games for the Pack.

The Lions also have an alarming issue in the backfield that will prevent them from being able to rise to the top of the NFL.

Their ground attack ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game last season with 81.9 yards per game. In contrast, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards per game with 117 a game.

Now, I know a lot of the running game woes can be blamed on Ameer Abdullah’s inability to stay healthy in 2016. He only played in two games, and didn’t even play a full game in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans.  

However, if that injury he suffered in the second week of the 2016 campaign flares up, the Lions would be royally screwed at running back once again.

The Lions are relying on the same primary backup backs as last year in Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner. And while you can argue that both are capable complementary pieces, neither has proven to be good enough to carry the load as Detroit’s No. 1 back.

The onus is on Abdullah to stay healthy. Without him, the Lions’ offensive attack will look much like last year’s, which averaged only 21.6 points per game (20th in the NFL) and 338.8 yards per game (21st in the NFL).

That kind of offensive production isn’t good enough to win games on a consistent basis in today’s NFL, which features a ton of scoring. Just look at the Patriots and what they did last season from an offensive standpoint. They averaged 27.6 points a game and 386.2 yards a game, good for third-and-fourth-best in the league, respectively.   

Maybe the same kind of offensive output will lead the Lions to a .500 record or another 9-7 season, but no way does it enable them to hoist the Lombardi trophy at season’s end, let alone record a playoff victory.

Remember, a playoff victory is something that is sadly parade-worthy at this point for the Lions.

The Lions have been looking to capture a playoff win since the divisional round of the 1991 playoffs when Barry Sanders helped Detroit defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 38-6.

A whole generation of Lions fans have never even seen a playoff win, including myself.

And guess what, an in-his-prime Sanders isn’t walking through those doors at Ford Field anytime soon.

So, let’s pump the brakes on all the crazy Super Bowl talk involving the Lions, at least until they win another playoff game.

And when they do win their next playoff game, just remember that the Lions have never been to a Super Bowl, while much newer franchises, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens, have each been to at least one.

Still, I’d be a fool for refusing to admit that the Lions are the Detroit pro sports team with the best chance of winning a title in the near future. What a sad fact to accept as a fan of Detroit’s four major professional sports franchises.

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About Vito Chirco

Vito Chirco is a class of 2015 graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy, and a freelance writer for the Detroit Free Press. When the 22-year-old’s not talking or writing about sports, he loves taking in a baseball game and watching his favorite professional sports team, the Detroit Tigers.