Football fans in Detroit have waited a long time for the Lions to give them something to cheer about. The team hasn't won a playoff game since 1991, and has reached the playoffs just once since the turn of the millennium 14 years ago.
Yes, times have been hard for the Detroit Lions, but there are plenty of reasons to look forward to watching them during the upcoming season. Here are 10 storylines to prepare you for when Detroit kicks off the preseason on August 9.
1. Jim Schwartz won't yell at you this season
Jim Schwartz's final moments in Ford Field summed up his last season with the Lions. Schwartz not only watched his team cough up a 20-13 fourth-quarter lead en route to being eliminated from playoff contention, he sweetened the deal by screaming at fans before the game headed into overtime.
Schwartz decided not to give his offense a chance to win the game in regulation, instead running out the final 23 seconds despite the team's two remaining time outs. When displeased fans booed his decision, Schwartz appeared to look into the stands and scream something angrily towards a nearby group of Lions faithfuls.
This season Schwartz won't be screaming at Lions fans, because he was fired on December 30 after posting a 29-51 record over five seasons in Detroit.
2. Jim Caldwell took over as head coach
Despite an obviously talented core of players, the Lions have failed to become a regular contender in the NFC North. Much of the blame has been placed on the coaching staff over the years, but now Detroit has hired an experienced coach to take the reins.
Caldwell has been a part of something the Lions have never experienced: Winning a Super Bowl. In fact, while Detroit is the only non-expansion NFL team to never have reached a Super Bowl, its new head coach assisted with the SB XLI and SB XLVII championship teams.
Super Bowl experience is a rarity in Detroit, so the addition of Caldwell atop the coaching staff should bring a new mentality to a struggling franchise.
3. The Lions were so close last season
The Lions blew a golden opportunity to win the NFC North last season after the Packers and Bears struggled without their starting quarterbacks. A victory in Chicago in Week 10 gave Detroit a 6-3 record, good enough for first place with just seven games remaining.
Unfortunately the final weeks of the season proved nightmarish for the Lions, as they blew six fourth-quarter leads and finished 7-9. That means the team was only one or two plays away from winning the division and hosting a playoff game in the first round.
The new coaching staff should bring improved discipline, which would decrease mental mistakes and fourth-quarter collapses. If the team mirrors its performance in the first three quarters this season and plays average football in the fourth, then contending for a wildcard spot is realistic for the 2014 Lions.
4. Matt Stafford has no excuse not to be elite this season
Matthew Stafford broke out during the 2011 season and threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. In the two seasons since, his yards have drastically decreased and his interceptions have mounted, raising doubts about his ability to be a franchise quarterback in Detroit.
The Lions decided to pass on several defensive stars in the first round of the NFL draft this season to pick up another weapon for Stafford: tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron joins an already-loaded receiving corps in Detroit to equip Stafford with more that enough pieces to lead a dominant offense.
If the 26-year-old can't return to his dominant form in 2014, then the Lions will be forced to question his future role. Detroit committed to Stafford long-term in 2013, but it's time for him to earn that contract and lead a dominant offense, no excuses.
5. Ebron joins an outstanding group of tight ends
Whether you're a fan of drafting a tight end at No. 10 overall or not, the addition of Ebron certainly gives the Lions a dangerous tight end core. Ebron, the consensus top tight end in the draft, joined Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria on the roster in April.
Ebron racked up 973 receiving yards on 62 catches during his final year with the University of North Carolina. At 6 foot 4, 235 pounds, the rookie gives Stafford another explosive target downfield.
The Lions will likely line up Ebron across from second-year tight end Fauria. Only five tight ends caught more touchdown passes than Fauria last season, as the undrafted rookie scored seven times.
Pettigrew rounds out the group of impact tight ends for Detroit, having hauled in 16 touchdowns in five seasons for the Lions. The addition of Ebron will likely push Pettigrew into more of a blocking role, but he can still be dangerous down the middle of the field.