Why the Madden Curse may help Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions

[caption id="attachment_470" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Curse? What curse?"][/caption]

When I first heard Calvin Johnson had won the “honor” of appearing on Madden NFL 13, my initial reaction was “Oh crap,” followed by several beers and more than a few tears. The ‘Madden Curse’ has deflated careers for more than a decade, whether it’s a season-ending injury (Donavon McNabb), locker room chemistry issues (Peyton Hillis), a severe decline in production (Daunte Culpepper) or some sick combination of all three (tough break, Vince Young).

As a Lions fan/person who has not lived under a rock for the last five years, I can’t think of a more irreplaceable player than Megatron. My heart could barely take the thought of Calvin being on the receiving end of EA Sports’ bad juju.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that maybe (MAYBE) the Madden Curse will actually be good for the Lions. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. The Lions might actually show up for the first half

While the heading is silly, it actually might carry some weight. After staging second-half comebacks seemingly every week last season, it would be nice to see the Lions consistently enter halftime at least within striking distance of the opposition. As much as I loved the ‘just throw it as far as you can in the general direction of 81’ strategy, it would be a lot easier on Lions fans’ collective blood pressure if they didn’t spot everyone 20 points at the half. If the rest of the team is fearing the effects of the curse, perhaps they'll try and jump out to an early lead so they don't need to rely so heavily on Megatron. And while some of Calvin’s best games were the comebacks, I don’t think he’d mind taking care of business a little earlier, even if it meant fewer fourth quarter bombs to save the game.

[caption id="attachment_473" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="See: "Throwing it up to Calvin""][/caption]

2. The Lions may have a legitimate running game

This is a bit of a long shot, with two of the top three running backs nursing injuries, but if the Lions can stay committed to at least trying to run the football, it may lessen the burden on Johnson and even open up more downfield throws (imagine that). As an extra bonus, even a slightly improved running game (29th in the league last season) will help keep QB Matthew Stafford upright. While all Lions quarterbacks know to get Calvin the ball, it’s clear Stafford has a special connection with Megatron. With Kevin Smith healthy again (knock on wood immediately before he re-injures something) and looking productive, the Lions may be able to slowly work back Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, the two recent draft picks tasked with saving the running game. If there’s even marginal improvement in the running game, it bodes very well for an already explosive Lions offense.

3. Titus Young 

[caption id="attachment_476" align="alignright" width="210" caption="Megatron's right-hand man. Hopefully we don't have to call him Starscream."][/caption]

Speaking of explosive, Calvin isn’t the only Lions wide receiver who strikes fear in opposing defenses. The slight yet superfast Titus Young showed serious flashes last season, and with Calvin commanding double and triple teams (in addition to the eyes of just about everyone on defense), he should get plenty of opportunities to improve on his rookie season. A flashy, quick receiver who actually catches with his hands (you can’t accuse him of alligator-arming too many passes), Young could explode this year, as long as he does it on the scoreboard and not with his fists. An improved campaign from Young could eat into some of Johnson’s production, but not the Lions win total.

4. A Defense that actually stops people

For all the talk of the Lions amazing defensive front, it sure seemed like they couldn’t stop anyone last season. They finished 23rd in total defense, and while they managed to finish fourth in interceptions (21), they’ll need to improve in all areas if they plan on getting back to the playoffs. After a long (read: LONG) offseason filled with off-field problems, it looks like that will be easier said than done. But if Nick Fairley can step in (once he’s no longer suspended) and be the player the Lions thought they were getting with the 13th pick in the 2011 draft, they’ll once again have a fearsome defensive line. While the secondary lost some pieces from last year (Aaron Berry, Eric Wright), the new guys can’t be much worse, both on and off the field (both players were arrested in the offseason). If the Lions defense does improve, there will be less pressure on Stafford and Johnson to throw their team back in the game.

These reasons, along with the ridiculous nature of Johnson’s 2011 season (96 catches, 1,681 yards and 16 TDs) may make the 2012 campaign less outstanding. If you want to chalk that up to the Madden Curse, go right ahead.

[caption id="attachment_479" align="alignright" width="300" caption="An adequate one-picture thesis of the 2011 season. "][/caption]

I for one, will be happy if Johnson makes it through the 2012 season without a season-ending injury or a huge scandal erupting (with the Curse, he’ll probably get caught running a sweatshop or something ridiculous like that). Even if his production drops, as long as the rest of the team steps up, Calvin and Lions can beat the Madden Curse.

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