This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The future that Lions' fans had been promised and waited for nearly a decade to see come to fruition appears to have finally arrived. Years of futility and high draft choices finally paid off with a playoff berth last season, the team's first since 1999. Moreover, the Lions appear built to last, as the team's young talent comes into its own.
Finally healthy, quarterback Matthew Stafford had his breakout campaign in 2011, passing for 5,038 yards, en route to the fifth-highest yardage mark ever for a single season. Meanwhile, he completed 63.5 percent of his passes and tossed 41 touchdowns against 16 interceptions.
Of course, he's been paired with arguably the best receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson, who has unquestionably established himself as part of the NFL's wide receiver elite. Johnson started the 2011 season with two touchdowns in each of the Lions' first four games, en route to recording league-high totals among wideouts in both yardage (1,681) and TDs (16).
Together, the two represent everything the Lions want to be about these days: Youth, talent and success. No longer in perpetual rebuilding mode, the team made no splash whatsoever in the free agent market and didn't do anything flashy on draft day either. Instead, the Lions were content to stay locked in at the No. 23 slot and select Iowa offensive lineman Riley Reiff, even though the team is pretty well set, though certainly not elite, at offensive tackle.
Detroit's defense has