While the Detroit Lions were “taking the next step” with Matt Patricia, the Cincinnati Bengals emphatically went into the NFL’s basement.
Cincinnati hit rock bottom with a 2-14 season in 2019, “earning” the No. 1 pick in the draft. And as tradition these days, they took a stab at drafting a franchise quarterback.
Fortunately for them, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow torched the SEC that year and became a fairly obvious consensus selection at the top.
The Lions will be at the top of the draft again next spring, perhaps the very top.
Since the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford at No. 1 in 2009, 10 quarterbacks have gone No. 1 in 13 drafts.
But in typical Lions fashion, in the year when they should have the chance to select virtually any quarterback they fancy, there doesn’t appear to be a Burrow in the bunch.
That’s not to say that Malik Willis of Liberty, Sam Howell of North Carolina or Spencer Rattler of Oklahoma can’t navigate their way up draft boards in the coming months.
But with no slam dunk QB at the top this year, watching Burrow on Sunday with a wish for your own great QB prospect someday might set you up for more disappointment.
Here are five things to watch as Burrow and the Bengals visit the Lions (1 p.m., FOX/97.1):
► 1. Joe’s cool: It’s hard to pinpoint the “It Factor” with quarterbacks, but a great QB name is an outstanding start. Joe Burrow fits that bill. He’s also a heck of a player, putting up good numbers in Cincy’s three wins but throwing five interceptions in their two losses. It’s early in his career, but Burrow appears to be on track for a long, successful career. He should have every opportunity to show off against the horrible Lions pass defense.
► 2. Air it out? Look, we know it’s hard to evaluate Jared Goff this season. The Lions are so limited at wide receiver that this week’s loss of Quintez Cephus qualifies as significant. Still, Goff is living up to his billing as conservative. His 3.7 air yards per completion is the NFL’s lowest for any qualifying QB, according to the NFL’s Next Gen stats. He’s also thrown three interceptions and lost four fumbles and his team is 0-5. It’s just not working. Might as well see what some of these no-name receivers can do.
► 3. Some good tape: Charles Harris is finally making some plays. A 2017 NFL Draft first-round bust with Miami, Harris already set a career high with four sacks this year with the Lions. On the edge with a porous defense, you might see teams game plan for Harris now in ways you could’ve expected when he came out of college at Missouri. With a little good tape comes the next challenge: Becoming a consistent force.
► 4. Chasing Chase: Burrow and his LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase have picked up right where they left off in Baton Rouge. The fifth pick of the draft, Chase was one of three blue-chip wide receivers available for teams at the top of the first round. The Lions didn’t have a shot at Chase, but did bypass Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith of Alabama in favor of Penei Sewell. It made lots of sense at the time, and still does from a team-building perspective. But feel free to be a little jealous of the game-breaking ability a player like Chase provides.
► 5. Lock it in? Is it time to start thinking about 0-17? Probably not, but it’s maybe not a horrible idea to hedge the pain and embarrassment of rooting for the only franchise to go 0-16 and then 0-17 with a little money for your misery. As we wrote this week at PlayMichigan, PointsBet Sportsbook had the Lions at +1400 to go 0-17 this season and Jacksonville at +1600. Could pay off to be early, just saying.
Matt Schoch covers sports betting for PlayMichigan.com.