What to Expect
The Detroit Lions have been seen as fringe playoff contenders the last few seasons. After a tough loss in the 2015 playoffs to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-20, some pieces of the puzzle began to scatter. The primary strength of the roster, the defensive line, was a difficult situation. Essentially, most of the players on the line, including key reserves were set to become free agents. Nick Fairley parted for New Orleans, and Ndamukong Suh headed for Miami, chasing a huge contract. The strength of the team had been shattered. In the 2016 season, they missed the playoffs after a generally mediocre season. Come 2017, Calvin Johnson had retired. Stafford began to become more of a leader and showed just how valuable he was to this team. He even set the single season record for 4th quarter comeback wins. In the 2016 playoffs, the Lions were outmatched by the Seattle Seahawks, losing 26-6. Now, this game was a one-score game in the 4th quarter, and if not for Stafford playing through an injury to his middle finger, then we might have a different story here. So the question remains, can the Lions become legitimate playoff contenders and get past the 1st round of the playoffs? Expect this team to be competing for a playoff spot, and potentially the division title as well.
This offense isn’t fully discovered just yet. It is yet to be seen if rookie WR Kenny Golladay is to have a key role. Also, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick appear to be back healthy, ready to go. This offense was explosive with both of them together last season, as was seen in Week 1, against the Indianapolis Colts on the road. Unfortunately, Abdullah was injured last season in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans. The key to unlocking more potential in the offense is going to revolve around whether Abdullah and Riddick can stay healthy. Abdullah may even have his sights on a feature back type of role, but that is yet to be seen. For now, it seems that Riddick will have his share in the offense, which isn’t a disadvantage by any means. This offense also features new key players on the offensive line, including T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner, who were signed in free agency. However, Taylor Decker’s injury is a major blow. The Lions traded to bring in Greg Robinson who is likely to fill in for him until he is healthy enough to return, and maybe Robinson and Decker might even be playing together soon, rather than filling in for each other. The additions to the offensive line are going to be quite intriguing. The Lions’ decision to avoid drafting a running back shows just how much confidence the Lions have in Abdullah and Riddick when they are healthy.
On the defensive line, Hyder proved that he can be a starter in this league, and a very good one at that. If Ansah can stay healthy next season, watch out for the pressure from the edge with this tandem. The interior part of the line revolves around A’Shawn Robinson. Can he develop his game to be more versatile this season?
The Lions spent a first round pick on Jarrad Davis. He appears to be the man who will be leading this LB group. With Davis, it is important to note his versatility and explosiveness. He has the tools to be an impact player in the NFL. They also drafted Jalen Reeves-Maybin, but his role on the team is still unclear, whether he will be starting, or be a key reserve.
In the secondary, Darius Slay has evolved his game to be an elite corner, and Glover Quin is still bringing it. Who will win the job to start opposite slay? Potentially Teez Tabor, or maybe even DJ Hayden. Who will form a tandem with Glover Quin this season? I’d like to see Miles Killebrew as he might just be the best tackler on this whole defense, a very underrated player.
Best Case Scenario: 11-5
Jarrad Davis is effective as a rookie. Ameer Abdullah stays healthy. The additions to the offensive line make it easier for Stafford and company. The Lions win the division and get to host a playoff game at Ford Field.
Worst Case Scenario: 7-9
The offensive line is still a disaster. Ameer Abdullah gets injured before the Bye Week. The defense struggles to generate pressure all season. The Lions find themselves out of the playoff race.
Schedule walk through
Week 1: vs. Cardinals
This game is tight from the start, but the energized home crowd helps the Lions get some stops late in the game. Carson Palmer has a great game, but it still isn’t enough.
W 23-20 Lions (1-0)
Week 2: @ Giants
The Lions give the Giants a run for their money, but it’s Monday Night Football and the Giants close the deal with Odell stepping up late.
L 24-14 Giants (1-1)
Week 3: vs. Falcons
Julio Jones has a field day, but so does Marvin Jones. Shootout from the start, the Lions get it done.
W 34-27 Lions (2-1)
Week 4: @ Vikings
The Vikings let the Lions steal this divisional game last year. This time, they don’t mess around. They contain the Lions’ offense and make it difficult for them to move the chains.
L 20-10 Vikings (2-2)
Week 5: vs. Panthers
After a tough road loss, the Lions’ offense shows up this time. Jarrad Davis gives Cam Newton trouble for the majority of the game.
W 27-13 Lions (3-2)
Week 6: @ Saints
Every time Stafford meets Drew Brees, it becomes a fun shootout to watch. Michael Thomas and Golden Tate both have a field day.
W 31-28 Lions (4-2)
Week 7: Bye Week
Week 8: vs. Steelers
Le’Veon Bell torches them on the ground, and Antonio Brown has his way all game long. The Lions’ struggle to contain this offense.
L 34-20 Steelers (4-3)
Week 9: @ Packers
The Lions start to lose momentum and the Packers take advantage.
L 24-14 Packers (4-4)
Week 10: vs. Browns
Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick carry the offense today, and take care of the Browns.
W 28-10 Lions (5-4)
Week 11: @ Bears
Stafford leads a 4th quarter comeback on the road, the momentum appears to be back.
W 24-17 Lions (6-4)
Week 12: vs. Vikings
These two teams meet again on Thanksgiving Day. Close game throughout, but the crowd becomes too much for the Vikings in the 4th quarter.
W 21-17 Lions (7-4)
Week 13: @ Ravens
The Lions get caught off guard on the road here. The defense struggles to limit Flacco.
L 27-14 Ravens (7-5)
Week 14: @ Buccaneers
This is a must-win game for the Bucs, as they are competing for a Wild Card. They get it done at home.
L 24-14 Bucs (7-6)
Week 15: vs. Bears
The Lions come home and get it done. Jordan Howard rushes for over 100 yards, but the Lions’ defense gets some key stops in the red zone.
W 21-14 Lions (8-6)
Week 16: @ Bengals
The Lions are hungry for the division title. The Bengals get caught off guard, as Jarrad Davis forces a fumble and Darius Slay forces gets a key interception late.
W 27-17 Lions (9-6)
Week 17: vs. Packers
Division title game. Playoff implications. Season on the line. The Lions get it done and finally get over the hump. The Green Bay Packers are shocked.
W 21-20 Lions (10-6)
→ Jarrad Davis becomes the legitimate leader of the defense.
→ Miles Killebrew ends up starting at Strong Safety.
→ Michael Roberts leads the team in touchdown receptions at the end of the season.
Surprise Star: Miles Killebrew
Miles Killebrew is likely to end up starting at Strong Safety before the season’s end. He is versatile, can play on special teams, and may even be used more as a LB more in some of the defensive schemes. He ends up forming a great duo with Free Safety, Glover Quin.
Final Record Prediction: 10-6
The Lions made the playoffs last season, but this season they want more than just the 6th seed. They look to secure the NFC North division. The Green Bay Packers appear to be the team that will be competing against them in what essentially may turn out to be a 2-headed race for the division. The Lions look to get past the notion of being a fringe playoff contender. Come Week 17, we may have an NFC North Title Game on our hands, just like we did last season.
If you're looking for some Detroit sports talk, I'm your guy! I like to write about NBA/NFL stories and fantasy football. Follow me on Twitter @CapsSlick