Lions fever is contagious

My (admittedly thin) list of offseason/lockout post ideas includes an in-depth look at why the Detroit Lions have become the offseason trendy choice as a dangerous and playoff-bound team in 2011. I'm still planning to write it, but for now it's worth noting a couple of preliminary points. I'd also like to hear from you on the topic as well.

First, this chatter isn't just coming from hopeful fans and bloggers hoping to maximize page views. It started as far back as the scouting combine, when Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said: "...Frankly I think Detroit is a very good football team. They're a distinctly different football team in how they played defensively towards the end of the season. I think our division is as competitive as any in the National Football League, and I think it's going to be better next year. Chicago and Minnesota had their runs here of late, we had a good season this year also, but I think Detroit is definitely a football team that the rest of the NFL needs to be aware of."

Thursday, in a post on SI.com, Kerry J. Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts offered a detailed statistical look at the Lions' improvement in 2010 and the progress they made in the 2011 draft. (Full disclosure: I first noticed it when Lions coach Jim Schwartz tweeted the link.)

Wrote Byrne: "The statistical turnaround of 2010, the season-ending win streak, the return of a healthy Matt Stafford and the arrival of an attractive draft class makes the Lions something they haven't been in decades: a team to watch in the season ahead."

I don't have any doubt the Lions will be fun and interesting to watch in 2011. Are they playoff bound? It's a difficult question to address ahead of free agency, and some of you are a bit leery at this point. Jeff of Nashville expressed his views in Tuesday's SportsNation chat. Our exchange:

Jeff (Nashville)

It seems like a lot of people are already anointing Detroit as a playoff team. Can we slow down? Sure Fairley is great, but he is not the second coming of Suh or he would have been drafted top 5. Those two rookies they drafted on offense aren't even practicing right now. No secondary. Stafford hasn't proven he can last a season. They have two legit SB contenders in their division. I totally understand the excitement and agree they are heading in the right direction, but playoffs? C'monnnnnnnn...

Kevin Seifert (2:49 PM)

If you look back at our chats last year, people were saying the same thing about the Bears -- including me. The season is full of surprises. It's fair to be cautious, but the Lions do have some things going for them that they haven't had in the past.

What do you think? Have the Lions already done enough to merit such expectations? If you're a Lions fan, does it make you nervous or confident? Let me know and I'll include some of your thoughts in our next post on the topic.