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Monday, October 20, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 4/20/2013

COMMENTARY

No love for Lions, Browns from NFL

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

One way of looking at it is to say fans of the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions won’t have to worry about too many late nights in 2013.

The other realization, of course, is that in the eyes of the NFL’s television partners, nobody in the general nationwide scheme of things wants to watch these teams.

So our regional franchises will get the bare minimum — one prime-time appearance each. The Lions will add their traditional national TV date on Thanksgiving Day.

Even worse for the Browns is that they were shuttled off to the cable-only (on those cable systems that subscribe to it) NFL Network for a Thursday-night home game against Buffalo on Oct. 3.

It is also the Bills’ only prime-time slot, meaning that TV killed two ugly birds with one stone.

This treatment for a Cleveland franchise that is 23-57 over the last five seasons, without more than five wins in any single year, was expected.

The Lions, however, must have been surprised they got no more than one Monday Night Football slot, and that coming very late in the season at Baltimore in Week 15.

A year ago, Detroit got four prime-time starts, plus the Thanksgiving Day game, for five total national appearances.

Yes, the Lions turned out to be bad, 4-12 with eight-straight-losses bad. But they still have the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson hook-up and have added running back Reggie Bush to the mix.

The running game, minus injured Jahvid Best, who still is a question mark with concussion-syndrome issues, was one reason for the Lions’ slide a year ago.

In fact, since he was drafted in 2010, Best has appeared in games with both Stafford and Johnson just five times, and Detroit is 5-0.

That’s why Bush was a high-priority, free-agent addition during this off-season. He’ll be a weapon running out of the shotgun, but more importantly is a big-play threat on underneath pass routes, something the Lions have missed without Best.

Bush was one of three key free-agent signings, along with Jason Jones, an undersized pass rusher at either end or tackle, where he could spell Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley on passing downs, and safety Glover Quin.

The latter has above-average coverage skills for a safety and, teamed with Louis Delmas, should allow Detroit’s cornerbacks to be more aggressive and play more man-to-man.

Otherwise, the Lions concentrated mainly on re-signing some of their own, highlighted by inconsistent linebacker DeAndre Levy, Delmas, and eeeeeecorner Chris Houston.

They could not, however, re-sign premier kicker Jason Hanson and offensive line stalwart Jeff Backus, both of whom retired. Cliff Avril, their best defensive end, and tackle Gosder Cherilus both were allowed to escape via free agency.

The Lions are left with some gaping holes on the offensive line that must be addressed in this week’s NFL draft.

In Cleveland, as usual, all eyes are on the quarterback position, except for those eyes on owner Jimmy Haslam’s corporate legal problems while wondering if those will affect his ability to run the franchise and pump in the kind of money badly needed for a seemingly never-ending rebuild.

The Browns brought in Jason Campbell to compete with Brandon Weeden, and there is the suspicion the team may yet target a quarterback in the draft.

Other free-agent signings of note were on defense, where linebacker/end Paul Kruger, linebacker Quentin Groves, and tackle Desmond Bryant could and should win starting jobs.

Cleveland also lost its long-reliable kicker, Phil Dawson, and moved to replace him with Shayne Graham.

Back to the schedule, the Browns will open at home — that has been the case in 13 of the last 14 seasons, and Cleveland is 1-13 in those games — but finish with a brutal stretch that finds them on the road for three of the last four (including Patriots and Steelers) and seven of the last 11 games.

The Lions’ toughest stretch comes early with four of the first six on the road. They won’t play their third game at Ford Field until Oct. 20.

In addition to their black-and-blue NFC North rivals, the Lions’ crossover games are against the rugged NFC East (Dallas, Washington, N.Y. Giants, Philadelphia) and the AFC North (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland).

Yes, our Lions will play our Browns in Cleveland on Oct. 13. You can bet the national TV folks didn’t spend much time considering that one for a prime-time slot.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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