Matthew Stafford enters his 11th NFL season Sunday searching for his first division title, his first playoff win and proof that he's a rightful franchise quarterback.
His defenders will say he hasn't had enough help in Detroit. His detractors will say it's about darn time he puts the Lions on his back. In NFL circles, the believe still seems to be that Stafford has been let down by the teams around him.
In an interview with the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket, Mike Tirico of NBC Sports relayed the thoughts of an opposing NFL coach.
"When you really think about it, Matthew has not had as much support over the years as he needs," Tirico said. "I know it’s the favorite topic at the (radio) station, people like to bash him. I will tell you that I spoke to a coach who had not seen him (before) and got to see him up close this year in preseason and said, 'You know what? That guy’s really, really good. He does not get credit for how good he is. He just has had no help.'"
That could change this season under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who wants to build things around the run. It will be incumbent on Stafford to prove he can take care of the rest.
"Will they give him a running game and (TJ) Hockensen as a tight end who looks the part, to just play some supportive, play-action, deep shot football? If so, this can be a seven-, eight-win team," Tirico said. "Once you get in that neighborhood it matters very little if you go from (predicting) 10 wins to six. I think they’re better than 3-13, I don’t think they’re a 10-win team right now, but I think this will be a positive building step this year with this group."
Tirico, for his part, feels the national projections have been a bit unfair to Detroit.
"Now, can a pretty good defense win games in the league? That means, can you score 23, 24 points? You’ve got a good field goal kicker who can hit from deep in close games. So the key comes down to, what’s the offense going to be like? I think that’s the big question. And we know Darrell Bevell over the years in Seattle, it was run, play-action."
While the Packers have been a trendy pick to win the NFC North, Tirico prefers the odds-on favorite.
"The Bears are the team to beat in this division," he said. "Sorry, Lions fans. Sorry, Vikings fans. The Bears got everything except for a proven kicker and a quarterback who we don’t know in the biggest of spots if he can walk you down the field and win a game, although he did it on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff game.
"So I think they’ve got all the pieces. They’re one of five teams in the NFC that I don’t need a lot of coffee to figure out they’re going to be a Super Bowl contender."