Seidel: The line that separates everything for the Detroit Lions

Personally, I think the Detroit Lions are a seven-win team.

But today, I’m in a great mood. The kids are back in school and fall is almost here. It’s the best time of year in Michigan — high school football on Friday, college football on Saturday and the NFL on Thursday, Sunday and Monday. To top it off, the Tigers are fighting for the playoffs.

That’s as fun as it gets.

So let’s lift a half-full glass and try to look at the bright side of things.

How could the Lions win more than seven games? What would have to happen for them to exceed expectations?

The list is long, but let’s start with this: Ziggy Ansah and DeAndre Levy have to be playmakers on defense (which is the most probable on this list); the secondary has to stay healthy; offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter needs to keep finding ways to get the ball to Theo Riddick; Ameer Abdullah has to become a consistent running attack; and Eric Ebron needs to be the player the Lions hoped they got when they drafted him in the first round — because if he reaches that level, he could present a matchup nightmare.

And then there’s Matthew Stafford, who needs to keep playing like he did in the second half of last season when he threw 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, completing 70 percent of his throws.

But before all of that, there is something more important.

For this team, everything hinges on the reshuffled offensive line, which will make or break this season. The Lions have moved Riley Reiff from left to right tackle and inserted rookie Taylor Decker at left tackle.

Which sounds scary as heck. A rookie starting at left tackle?

There’s a reason most teams don’t do something crazy like that — you want to protect the franchise quarterback with a rookie? You want to see Stafford hit over and over, like a piñata hanging in Ford Field?

We’ve seen that way too many times. That sounds like the recipe for a seven-win team, which is, of course, where we started this discussion.

But if everything falls into place, if that line starts to jell quicker than expected, if Decker can protect Stafford’s blind side, if that line can create a consistent running attack, then this team could exceed expectations.

And yes, that’s a whole bunch of “ifs.”

“Reiff can play anywhere,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Tough, smart, which he’s proven that. The great thing is that he has some flexibility that allowed us to put (Decker) at left tackle, and he’s coming along.”

Does that mean Caldwell is comfortable with this line?

“I’m not certain you’re going to ever hear me say anything about being comfortable,” Caldwell said. “Do I think that they’re getting better? Absolutely. Do I think we’ve arrived? No way, so we’ve got a lot of work to do yet.”

OK. No coach will ever say he is comfortable.

“I think we are heading in the right direction,” center Travis Swanson said. “I don’t think we are at the end point. We are trending in the right direction.”

“Could you be better than you were last year?” I asked him.

“We have all the potential to be,” Swanson said. “There is no doubt about it. The guys we have in the room, the work ethic, that attitude of the group now, I think everything is starting to come together for us. We still have a long ways to go, but we are going in the right direction.”

In the first seven games last season, Stafford was sacked 16 times. In the last nine games, after Cooter took over and they switched offenses, he was sacked 28 times.

Which is not the best of trends, especially for the long-term health of the franchise QB.

“We feel more comfortable with the job that we are asked to do,” guard Larry Warford said. “We feel that we are clicking a lot faster. … We are still working out kinks. It’s going to be an ongoing process. I feel really good about this offensive line.”

Will the Lions win more than seven games, get into the playoffs and actually win a game? Heck no. It’s extremely doubtful, to say the least.

On the other hand, I suppose it’s possible, just like winning the lottery is, theoretically, possible, despite the odds.

At least on this day when the air is still filled with possibility, masking the reality of the past 50 years or so, and the glass is still half full.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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