2018 may have been the worst year of professional sports in Detroit’s history. For the second consecutive year in a row, none of the four teams made the playoffs, and for the first time since 1977, all four teams finished the year under 500. So, the good news is that it can’t get much worse if you’re a Detroit sports fan. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look back on the good and bad of 2018 and see what the future has in store for Detroit’s professional sports teams in 2019.
By far the biggest disappointment on the list, the Lions came into the 2018 season with a new coaching staff, a supposedly new team attitude, and legitimate postseason expectations. Instead, the team face-planted to a 6-10 mark and finished last in their division once again, proving that they were the same old Lions after all.
While the Lions might be lacking in star power, they do have a nice young core of solid players who emerged throughout the year. Buoyed by the 2018 draft class, the Lions now have a ton of talent, all 25 and under, from which to build a foundation of success. On offense, that includes Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Kerryon Johnson, and emerging superstar, Kenny Golladay. On defense, we are talking about A’shawn Robinson, De’Sean Hand, Jared Davis, Quandre Diggs, and Tracy Walker. That is a lot of young talent for one team to have, and all these guys either had solid seasons or showed enough promise to be legitimate pieces for the future of this organization.
I could list so many different problems here, but I am going to focus on the two that were the key to the failures this season and affect the team the most going forward. Let’s start with Matthew Stafford. What the hell happened to Stafford? After three straight good-fringe-great seasons, the QB fell off a cliff. His numbers are down across the board compared to previous years. Not counting his first two seasons where he was injured, Stafford has played eight full years. This year, he finished with his worst yards per game, 30 yards worse than his previous lowest, second worst QBR, and failed to hit 4,000 yards passing for the first time in eight years. While many will blame the poor play-calling and lack of weapons as the reason for his decline, the fact of the matter is that a fringe elite QB, which Stafford was coming into the season, is supposed to be better than this. Too many times there were simple mistakes that 10-year vets can’t make. Go watch the Jets game to start the year, and you will see a plethora of these. Or how about the Bears game with the inexplicable throw to the outside numbers that led to the pick six that was the difference in the game. These mistakes are understandable for rookies, but not for the highest-paid QB in the NFL. Whether it was injury, a case of the yips, or simply randomness, the Lions need to fix Stafford – otherwise, it won’t matter what else they do. As he goes, so goes the team.
Now, let’s transition to the other major problem that ruined the Lions season: Matt Patricia. When the Lions fired Jim Caldwell, it was because he couldn’t win the big games. Forget the fact that Caldwell became the first coach to finish with a winning record as coach of the Lions since the 60s. Back-to-back 9-7 seasons and two playoff appearances in four seasons weren’t good enough according to GM Bob Quinn, and he was determined to find the guy who could take the Lions from good to great. Enter Matt Patricia. Patricia, who came from the Bill Belichick coaching tree (a very ominous sign), was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots for six seasons and was supposed to take the Lions from pretender to contender. He wanted to bring a no-nonsense, tough-nosed approach to this organization that had become more relaxed during Caldwell’s time. Patricia started out by alienating veteran players with overly grueling two-a-days and conditioning drills most NFL teams don’t run. When the season started, he showed how green he was as a coach with some horrific clock management and could never decide whether he wanted to be an aggressive or conservative coach. It’s a fine line that even the best struggle with, but Patricia’s fourth down decisions, his two-point tries, and his punting vs field goal calls left fans and media perplexed, to say the least, punctuated by that horrible onside kick call against the Rams. Off the field, he was as cuddly as a porcupine, getting into fights with the media week after week. Who can forget the slouching incident where he went after a reporter for his posture? Then there were the snow practices, which never made any sense, considering the Lions played five of their final seven games indoors. The season ended with the punctuality issue where it was reported that Patricia showed up late to team meetings and practice, something most head coaches would never do, as they are supposed to set the example for the organization. Patricia’s response to this was that he “runs a tight schedule.” What a load of B.S.
It’s not been all bad for the first-year coach. The defense, which came into the year looking like a mess and for the first half was terrible, ended up finding a rhythm and finished the year as a top 15 unit in most defensive categories. However, the defensive improvements don’t overshadow that this has been a trying year for Patricia, and he is firmly on the hot seat heading into 2019.
The Lions’ future is very up in the air. While the team has a good core of young talent, and they do have the #8 pick in the draft to add to that base, the team is at a tipping point. On one hand, if Patricia hires the right offensive coordinator and Stafford recovers to his previous form, this team could compete next season for the division title and maybe make a playoff run. On the other hand, if Patricia is as bad as he was in 2018 and Stafford’s regression continues, then the Lions will be back at the bottom of the division. It’s a precarious pendulum to say the least.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are a team in the midst of a rebuild, and as such, it should surprise no one that they are once again on pace to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
The young kids are developing nicely, and that is really what this season is all about. Outside of Anthony Mantha, who has been out with a broken hand, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dennis Cholowski, Andreas Athanasiou, and Michael Rasmussen have all shown promise. It has been Dylan Larkin, though, who has taken the biggest step forward of the Wings young kids. Larkin, who bounced back with a career high of 63 points a season ago after suffering through the sophomore slump, has taken the next step to superstardom as he has been Mr. Do-it-All for the Wings. He leads the team in points, goals, and assists and this year had a ridiculous 14-game point streak. He has emerged as the franchise centerpiece for this organization. Coupled with the development of their younger players in the minors, with top prospect Filip Zadina chief among them, the future for the Wings looks promising. It also doesn’t hurt that the team is on pace to add a top 10 pick in this year’s draft, which should add even more young talent to the Wings. The Wings look poised to get back to competing sooner rather than later, something this city truly needs.
Injuries, injuries, injuries. Look, the NHL is a physical sport and injuries are a common occurrence, but it seems the Wings have been more snakebitten this year than most. They lost one of their best young forwards in Mantha for two months, lost Darren Helm for months, lost Danny Dekeyser for four to six weeks and lost young prospect Evgeny Svechnikov for the year right before the season began. Those losses, while bad, pale in comparison to the continued injury issues that have plagued Mike Green, the Wings’ best defenseman. With Green in the Lineup, the Wings have gone 13-8-2 and looked like a playoff team; without him they’ve gone 2-11-5 and have looked like the worst team in the NHL. Yikes! The Wings have fallen out of the playoff hunt with these injuries, and at this point, the one silver lining is that the open spots allow young guys to get more time to develop at the NHL level, which is imperative to the future of this team.
Speaking of said future, the Wings’ future looks much better now than it did at this point a year ago. They have a true franchise player in Dylan Larkin, who is turning into one of the top two-way centers in the NHL. Andreas Athanasiou has found some consistency to go along with his incredible skills, and Tyler Bertuzzi mixes in scrappy play with some sensational hockey. Add to that the breakout rookie year for defensemen, Dennis Cholowski, and the Wings may have finally found a #1 defenseman, something they haven’t had since the great Nick Lidstrom retired. The Wings also have some tradeable pieces for the trade deadline to go along with one of the best farm systems in the League. Along with their future top 10 pick, there are a lot of positives for the Wings in 2019. The team still needs to find more NHL veteran talent and figure out their goalie situation and whether or not Jeff Blashill is the long-term solution as head coach. But that being said, the Wings look to be headed in the right direction, and after three years in the midst of a rebuild, the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to become more clear.
The Pistons are in one of the worst situations of any NBA organization. They aren’t good enough to compete, but aren’t bad enough to tank for a top 5 pick; they are stuck in limbo.
Blake Griffin, and that’s about it. Griffin has ascended to a whole nother level. While he has always been a good player, he has turned himself into a bona fide superstar. He’s averaging a career high in points while dishing out five assists per night to go along with almost 9 board a game. He has become a do-everything point forward, the guy who the offense runs through every night, and with his improved shot, he’s averaging a career high of 36.7% on threes while attempting over six a game. He has become one of the most unguardable players in the league. He is an all-star who, at 29 years old, may be better than he was during his high-flying Clipper days, and that shows the development of his considerable talent. Bruce Brown has also been a surprise, as the second-round pick looks like a high-end role player in this league.
Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson have two of the worst contracts in the sport, and are flat-out are not very good. Drummond is the same as he has ever been; he will get a bunch of rebounds, score on easy buckets, and not be a good defender. Jackson has taken another step back offensively, still can’t play a lick of D, and has regressed to the point where he no longer looks like a starting caliber point guard. These two were supposed to be the foundation on which the next great Pistons teams were built, but instead, they have never developed and are wasting the efforts of Blake Griffin. It’s not just these two who have been issues with this team. The last three first-round picks all look like misses. Stanley Johnson is a bust who has never shown enough consistency or an ability to become the player the Pistons thought they were getting when they drafted him at #7 in the 2015 draft. Henry Ellenson can’t even get on the court, while Luke Kennard can’t stay healthy, and when he is in there, we see only flashes of quality offense; meanwhile, his defense remains atrocious. Poor drafting and developing, as well as handing massive contracts to the wrong guys by the previous Stan Van Gundy regime, have hamstrung the Pistons, and this team has struggled all year because of these poor decisions.
Reggie Jackson has another year left on his deal after this season. Meanwhile, the Pistons will probably move on from Stanley Johnson after this year, as well. The team, however, can’t realistically look at having much wiggle room till the summer of 2020, and even then, Detroit has never been a major destination for free agents. They are closer to the lottery than competing, but because the east is terrible, the Pistons are in the eighth seed right now, even though they have a losing record. The best hope for the Pistons is to continue to struggle fall out of the playoffs and hopefully add some talent with their lottery pick. Without that, don’t expect this team to do much for at least another year. They don’t have the cap space or assets to pull anything off barring a major Blake Griffin trade.
The Tigers are heading into the second year of a massive rebuild after years of competing and just missing out on that elusive World Series title.
Al Avila has done a good job of rebuilding this farm system. In 2017, the Tigers had arguably the worst farm system in the majors, and in two years, Avila has replenished the system with some very good trades, as well as solid drafts. The Tigers now boast a top 10 system and are especially deep when it comes to pitching. The team took Casey Mize with the #1 pick in the 2018 draft and are hoping he can become the next Ace and replace the great Justin Verlander. While the major league team struggled again, that was to be expected. For the Tigers, it’s all about the future and cultivating a top-tier farm system, while finding some diamonds in the draft and through free agency is exactly what this team needs to do.
Losing stinks. Even if it’s by design, it doesn’t make it any less painful to watch the Tigers lose 98 games for the second consecutive season. What is more important, though, is that the Tigers make the right decision with their current trade chips. Nick Castellanos is heading into the final season of his deal and needs to be traded ASAP in order to receive the most value the team can for the fringe all-star outfielder. The fact that they haven’t moved him yet is concerning, and they run the risk of him either getting hurt or playing poorly, which will torpedo his value. In terms of players, Michael Fulmer had a middling year as he dealt with injuries all season. The former all-star and rookie of the year struggled mightily to the tune of a 4.69 ERA, and at this point, he no longer looks like the budding ace the Tigers thought he was going to be just two seasons ago.
When it comes to the onfield product, expect 2019 to look a lot like 2018. The Tigers are destined to lose a bunch of games again, and that is by design. The team may not win, but they are hoping to be able to flip some reclamation projects at the deadline for prospects like they did with Leonys Martin and Mike Fiers in 2018. They also will be looking to see what young players emerge as potential starters for this team, with Christian Stewart being one for the fans to keep an eye on. Other than that, fans can look forward to what could be a wave of Tigers prospects to make their major league debuts next season with Alex Faedo, Beau Burrows, and Daz Cameron all expected to join the team at some point. The key to the year will be if the Tigers trade Nick and what they get for him if they move him. If they net a few good prospects from the deal, then it’s a success. If they don’t, they should try to resign him. Otherwise, they would only receive a compensatory pick, which would be a major letdown.
While 2019 doesn’t look that much better for Detroit sports, at least it can’t be that much worse than 2018 was. The Lions and Red Wings in particular could have big seasons next year, and the Tigers are on the right path in their rebuild. If you’re a Pistons fan, it might be another trying year, as barring a major trade, they will most likely struggle again. Anyway, the new year is all about hope, and here’s hoping 2019 is a good one for Detroit sports.