Pivotal season awaits returning Matthew Stafford, Lions

Myriad factors point to 2020 being a pivotal season for the Detroit Lions franchise.

A new era is underway as Sheila Ford Hamp has taken over for her mother Martha Firestone Ford. Though there's change at the very top, the expectations of becoming a contender following a disastrous three-win season remain the same and should those aspirations get cut short, an edict of change is likely to carry out with coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn's employment presumed to be hanging in the balance.

With change being clamored for, though, a consistent Motor City storyline carries on and that is that the Lions' fortunes most likely rest upon the consistently stellar right arm of Matthew Stafford.

And the question remains, can Stafford's return be a catalyst for a Lions turnaround?

An ironman at quarterback who had recorded 136-straight starts before a back injury sidelined him in 2019, Stafford spent the last half of the season on the sidelines as the Lions never won a game without him and take a nine-game losing streak into a pivotal 2020 campaign.

Though promise existed at the onset of last season, even with Stafford at the helm the Lions were languishing and had lost four of five after a 2-0-1 beginning to the campaign.

The obvious hope is Stafford can pick up where he left off as he was turning in the best season of his impressive career. When Stafford's campaign came to a sudden halt, he had a 106.0 quarterback rating and was averaging 8.6 yards per attempt – each career-highs. His 312.4 yards and 2.4 touchdowns per outing were each his best since 2011.

While Stafford's early exit came with the Lions at a hardly impressive 3-4-1, it was still far better than the 0-8 skid in which Detroit ended the year, the offense sputtering along, more than eight points and 100 passing yards per game less without the Georgia product (according to NFL Research).

Lions With and Without

Matthew Stafford

2019 Season                 

(Via NFL Research)

With                Without

W-L                  3-4-1               0-8

PPG                 25.5                17.1

Pass YPG        295.3              192.3

TD-INT             19-5                9-10

Passer Rating  106.0              69.8

Eleven seasons into an often-underrated NFL career, Stafford is already far and away the Lions' all-time leader in passing yards, his 41,025 yards closing in on triple that of the legendary Bobby Layne, a Hall of Famer who had 15,710 yards and is in second place in team history. Stafford's franchise-record 256 career touchdown passes are also more than double second-place Layne's 118.

Still, Stafford – the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft – has been unable to turn the fortunes of a long-beleaguered franchise all on his own despite his lofty numbers. During the days of Stafford, Detroit has had three head coaches, produced just four winning seasons, no division titles, three postseason berths with nary a playoff victory and is now coming off its worst season since 2009, when it all began with Stafford. 

Nonetheless, as evidenced by last season, the Lions are certainly better with Stafford than they are without him.

There has been an abundance of Lions offseason additions – linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Duron Harmon, among others – and an abundance of departures – offensive tackle Rick Wagner, defensive tackles "Snacks" Harrison and Mike Daniels and cornerback Darius Slay. Changes have been plentiful, but Stafford is still the centerpiece and the catalyst.

Stafford can sling it, there's no quandary in that regard. Can he do so at the same high level as he did prior to his injury and can he make the Lions a playoff contender are among the Lions' prevailing storylines when 2020 kicks off.

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