Earlier this week Zac Snyder and looked into the potential of the Bucs and Lions to evolve an interdivisional rivalry akin to that of the Patriots and Colts. Zac took the time to look at the parallels between the Patriot dynasty and the philosophy behind building the Lions, while I looked at the common elements present in both Tampa and Indianapolis. To finish that collaboration Zac and I spoke about the potential rivalry and what stands between the Bucs and Lions and joining the ranks of the NFL elite.
What similarities between Lions-Bucs and Patriots-Colts do you find most compelling?
Patrik Nohe: Most striking to me is the quarterbacks. You cannot win in the NFL if you don’t have a good quarterback. Tampa and Detroit are two teams with considerable investments in young quarterbacks and the early returns have been very good. The Lions are a different team with Stafford in the game, they look potent. If he stays healthy he’s going to have a long and decorated career. We all saw what Freeman did in his first full season as a starter (25-6 TD:INT, 10-6 record, 6 come from behind wins).
You can’t quite say these two are the next two great ones yet. But it is OK to let that thought settle in the back of your mind this season. They both look to be on that trajectory. To me the quarterbacks excite me because I feel like we’d be getting a more athletic version of Manning-Brady if they can reach their potential. That’d equate to just fantastic football and I’d love both fan-bases to be treated to that for the next decade.
Zac Snyder: The connection that I find really interesting is that both sets of teams were in the same division until the league went to the current four division format. The fact that the Patriots and Colts used to play twice per year set up a certain level of familiarity. It may not have contributed to the intensity of the rivalry on the field but both fanbases were already used to seeing their team play the other. The Lions and Bucs are in the same position due to their mutual history in the old NFC Central division. I still have vivid memories of some hot games in Tampa and the Bucs trips to the Silverdome. Seeing the Lions and Bucs on the same field is not an odd site.
Which team do you think fades first? Patriots or Colts?
PN: I think the Colts do. That’s not to say they’re doing it wrong in Indy it’s just the New England Patriots are in a league of their own when it comes to draft picks. They just stockpile them year to year and it seems like every year they pick five times in the first three rounds. They seem more capable, to me, to reload and keep young players and veterans passing through their system at a good rate. I mean even now you can see them getting younger at certain positions, they revamped their tight ends, their linebackers are getting younger, their secondary keeps getting younger and yet they maintain their high level of play. Eventually they’re going to have to replace Brady. That’s the hard part and you can’t just go out and find another elite QB. But for now I think the Patriots will stay good longer.
ZS: I agree, I think it will be the Colts. The Patriots missed the playoffs when Brady missed most of the season a few years ago but Matt Cassel was still able to lead them to a record that would have had them in the playoffs in just about any other year. Sights of horror ususally ensue whenever Peyton Manning is removed from the game. The Patriots have the better overall team while the Colts rely more heavily on Peyton Manning compared to the Pats’ reliance on Brady.
What stumbling blocks stand in the way of the Lions and Bucs from developing a great rivalry?
PN: Their divisions. Unfortunately the Patriots and Colts have had the benefit of being in fairly weak divisions for stretches of time. The Titans and Jets have had a few decent teams over that time, but in the AFC East the Bills and Dolphins have had terrible decades and the AFC South is a joke. The Lions and Bucs meanwhile are stuck squaring off with the Bears and Packers in the Lions case and the Falcons and Saints in the Bucs case. Those are four, very talented, well-constructed teams that will probably be good for a while themselves.
But, to be the best you’ve got to beat the best. The winner of the last two Super Bowls has come out of the NFC North and South, it takes a lot to win those divisions. If Tampa and Detroit start to rise to the top of their divisions, there won’t be debate anymore, they will be amongst the NFL’s elite, they will play year in and year out as division winners and this rivalry will take off. So in a way what stands in the way of this becoming a major rivalry is part of what could make this rivalry so great.
ZS: Consistency. While their divisions are tough, if they can get themselves in position where they are finishing at the same point in their respective divisions they will guarantee themselves a game against each other the following year. Familiarity will help build the rivalry – even if it just as competition for a wild card berth. For this rivalry to develop, the Lions and Bucs really have to rise together. The whole thing is in jeopardy if one team falls off or lags the other.
Do you feel that there is any remaining animosity between the Lions and Bucs fanbases from the old NFC Central days?
PN: In Tampa, there is now. Last season the Buccaneers would have made the playoffs if they beat Detroit. After dropping the game to the Lions Tampa went on to way-lay the Seahawks and then beat the Saints in the Superdome to finish 10-6. They lost on a tie-breaker that sent the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs as the last wild card spot and we all saw what they went on to do.
Bucs fans, for the most part, aren’t so bold as to say the team would have made a Super Bowl run in place of the Packers, but they are acutely aware that the Lions game cost the Bucs a chance to go to the playoffs. There is some animosity there, and the Bucs players have been looking forward to this date for a while. Granted, that animosity doesn’t date back to the old NFC Central days (when it was more reserved for the Packers), but it does exist on the Tampa end.
ZS: I don’t get the sense that there is any residual animosity. The Lions and Bucs didn’t have a long stretch where both were relevant in the division race at the same time so it was hard to build up that hatred like Lions fans have with the Bears, Packers and Vikings. It was nice the Lions could play the spoiler role in Tampa last year but that doesn’t result in any feelings towards the Bucs.
Long-term, outside of QB’s, what do you think will be the best matchup when the Lions and Bucs square off?
PN: Well, there’s McCoy vs. Suh. They were picked 2-3 in last year’s draft and while Suh went on to have an absolutely phenomenal rookie season, McCoy struggled and then finished the season on IR right as he was finally finding his form. All accounts say McCoy is healthy and looking to have a big season this year, and I’m sure a large part of that is motivated by the constant comparisons to Suh.
But beyond that, I am intrigued by the coaches. Jim Schwartz and Raheem Morris seem to be two of the brightest young stars in coaching and they are both fairly unconventional in their methods at times. I could see them having some great battles. One thing you can’t say about the coaching match-ups of Dungy and Belichick are that there was a ton of personality involved. I’m sure away from the field both guys are interesting (hell, Belichick is close friends with Bon Jovi, he has to be), but on the field it was Hoody McTerse vs. Captain Cliche and that’s just not much fun. Morris and Schwartz have personality and as they win and become more confident I only expect that to grow.
ZS: The Lions defense against the Bucs Offense. The Lions have put together some weapons on offense but it will be the improvement of the defense that leads the team where they want to go. I have been impressed with Josh Freeman but the Bucs have an offense that features a lot of balance. How the Lions defense handles a balanced attack could be the difference between winning and losing. We know they can get after the quarterback but teams have to worry about the ground game too thanks to a breakout year by LeGarrette Blount.