My first full season as an NFL beat writer was in 2008, and it was about at this point in the year when jokes started flying about the Detroit Lions going 0-16.
The Lions lost their fifth game that season to the Minnesota Vikings, when Dan Orlovsky ran out of the back of the end zone while trying to avoid a sack and cemented the Lions as one of the biggest laughingstocks in the league.
My future colleague at the Free Press, Mike Rosenberg, started one of the great satirical columns of all-time not long after that game, "The Road to 0-16," but I'm not sure even he thought we were witnessing history at the time.
This year's Lions are not as bad as that first team I covered, and certainly not the laughingstock of the league, though they have an identical 0-5 record at the same point in the season and are coming off their own only-the-Lions loss in Minnesota.
The 2008 Lions cycled through five different quarterbacks (starting three) and had a roster mostly bereft of NFL talent. They lost Jon Kitna to a back injury early in the season (to be clear, it was a front office decision to shut down Kitna, who could have returned after a few weeks' rest), signed an overweight Daunte Culpepper away from a youth football coaching gig to be his replacement, traded one of their best players to the Dallas Cowboys and took the field with a mostly young roster and an eye on the future.
This year's Lions have a more stable quarterback situation — no matter what you think of Jared Goff — and while their roster is barren in some places and barely serviceable in others, there are redeeming pockets of talent that have kept them largely competitive through five games.
Their offensive line, even without Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow, is above-average. They have a good running game, but have not been in a position to use it in the fourth quarter. And they are full of young, try-hard guys on defense who should get better as the season goes on.
I write all that to say, while there is not a bone in my body right now that believes the Lions will go 0-17, they are one of two winless teams left in the NFL (along with the Jacksonville Jaguars), so we can't quite rule it out.
The Lions play the Cincinnati Bengals this week in another game that will be a challenge to win.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow returned to practice Wednesday after a weekend hospital trip for a throat injury, and assuming he plays, the Lions have little recourse to stop Cincinnati's high-powered passing game.
Justin Jefferson torched the Lions for seven catches and 124 yards last week, and there's no reason to believe his former LSU teammate, Ja'Marr Chase, won't do the same Sunday.
Looking at the final 12 games on the Lions' schedule, there are no sure wins to be found but a handful of reasonable opportunities.
After the 3-2 Bengals and a visit to see their old friend Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams — one of the best teams in the league — the Lions have a winnable Week 8 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's at Ford Field, reinforcements could be returning from the injured list by then and the Eagles are subpar themselves (though they did upset the Carolina Panthers last week).
If the Lions don't get that game, their best chances of victory after their Nov. 7 bye are home games against the division-rival Vikings and Chicago Bears, and road trips to see the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions have one of the NFL's toughest remaining schedules. They are underdogs in all 12 of their coming games, according to BetOnline.ag, and their final 12 opponents have a .583 winning percentage. By comparison, the final 11 opponents on Jacksonville's schedule — the Jaguars play the Indianapolis Colts twice, plus the lowly Falcons, New York Jets and Houston Texans — have a .418 winning percentage.
That may be good news for the "protect the pick" camp, those who want the Lions to finish with the worst record in the NFL and get the No. 1 pick in next spring's draft. But this franchise could do without the fog of finishing 0-for-another-season hanging over its head.
Lions coach Dan Campbell, a player on the winless 2008 team, said Wednesday he understands the angst some fans feel about his team's 0-5 start. If the Lions lose Sunday to the Bengals, it will mark their worst start since the 2008 season.
"I know," Campbell said. "I know. And look, nothing I'm going to tell them is going to make them feel any better. So all I can do is try to prove it, show it, and not me, us, all of us; staff, players. I know, look, everybody's frustrated."
Campbell was injured in the Lions' first game in 2008 and spent the rest of the season rehabbing at his home in Texas. He said he could not compare the mood of the team then to now, because he was around so infrequently in 2008.
I was there every day — at practices and games, at least — and I can tell you the 2008 Lions were not full of knuckleheads or mail-it-in guys with I-75 eyes waiting for the season to end. They played hard, for the most part, and had good people in the locker room — they just weren't very good.
In that vein, this year's Lions are similar.
"I do know this about this team," Campbell said. "They came in ready to work, they're hungry and they'll be ready to go out there and put their best foot forward and improve. And that's really all we can ask right now. In the end it'll pay dividends and we just got to stay that course."
A course that everyone hopes will lead to somewhere other than 0-17.