Predicting how the Detroit Lions would do each season used to be easy.
For many years, they were so bad you never had to think they'd be anything different. You just knew they would stink up the joint.
Then, in 2011, a miracle happened. Behind a 5-0 start, the Lions somehow managed to go 10-6 overall and qualify for an NFC wild-card playoff game.
They lost that contest, of course, in a 45-28 decision to the New Orleans Saints.
But it seemed like the Lions were finally turning it around, that maybe they were on the path to respectability and beyond.
The club took a nosedive last season, finishing with a woeful 4-12 mark.
Injuries, underachievement in many areas and poor decisions made by head coach Jim Schwartz and his staff all led to the Lions' downfall.
They again looked like the same old Lions. It was a major disappointment.
This season is more difficult to predict how the Lions might do. Which Lions' team will show up? The pitiful one where little is done right, or the squad that plays well enough to make the postseason?
It's tempting to say the Lions will improve enough this season to the point they make the playoffs.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is just 1-22 against teams that finished a season with winning records, receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and running back Reggie Bush - a free agent acquisition - are talented players. So is tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
But the offensive line is being rebuilt. It's going to be the key to the Lions' offensive fortunes. If it helps Bush hit the outside and keeps defenders off Stafford's back, the Detroit offense could shine.
So could the defense. The Lions' front four of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, along with defensive ends Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, Jason Jones and Israel Idonije, could give opposing QBs nightmares with their run-stuffing and pass-rushing abilities.
But the Lions' linebacking corps is unimpressive and the defensive secondary - though improved - isn't going to strike terror in any opposing signal caller.
Glover Quin is a good acquisition and Louis Delmas is a quality safety who can solidify the defensive backfield, if he can stay healthy.
But the rest are suspect and may not be enough to keep opposing teams from strafing the Lions' secondary.
It'll be up to the front four to put enough pressure on opposing QBs to help out the defensive backfield.
The Lions have enough talent to be improved this season. The jury is still out on Schwartz, however.
He's on the hot seat. If the Lions don't make the playoffs this season, he's gone. It's as simple as that.
The Lions will win more games that they did last season. But there's no real reason to think at this point they'll be better than an 8-8 club.
If that's the case, it just won't be good enough.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org