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Preseason power rankings: No. 32

As we start our annual process of ranking the NFL franchises from bottom to top, we start with the bottom.

The very bottom.

And there’s no lower than any team can go than our No. 32 team went a year ago.

They are, to no surprise, the Detroit Lions.

Even with the coaching change and the new personnel and the arrival of No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford and the sense of optimism that comes from a 0-0 record, we couldn’t in good conscience put any other team beneath the Lions, even though we were tempted to do so.

But this isn’t a prediction on where teams will finish. It’s just a snapshot as to where they currently stand.

Indeed, the Lions could be this year’s version of the 2008 Dolphins, winning some games early, building momentum, and possibly getting in position to compete for a wild-card berth down the stretch.

Running back Kevin Smith could be poised to break out, and receiver Calvin Johnson already is one of the very best in the league at what he does.

On defense, veteran linebackers like Julian Peterson and Larry Foote will benefit from the presence of larger linemen and a hard-hitting rookie safety, Louis Delmas, who could be the next Bob Sanders.

So if new coach Jim Schwartz isn’t the latest example of the Peter Principle played out in pro football, things could be moving in the right direction in 2009.

We close things out with a few category-type entries designed for the ADD generation.

Key player: Kevin Smith. If he can move the chains without high-end blocking, the passing game led by Matthew Stafford could take root, allowing points to be scored and pressure to be reduced on the defense.

Rookie to watch: Louis Delmas. Stafford was too obvious; Delmas brings attitude and enthusiasm to a team that desperately needs to turn the page.

Best veteran acquisition: Larry Foote. The veteran linebacker comes home with two Super Bowl rings and a geniune desire to be in Detroit. His presence will go a long way toward putting last season in the rear-view mirror.

Key game: Week Two, vs. Minnesota. The Lions came close on two occasions to beating the Vikings in 2008, and Detroit could find itself breaking the string of futility early in the season. Getting to 1-1 would go a long way toward permanently shelving 0-16.

Projected finish (i.e., complete guess we feel compelled to make): 5-11.