Projected Record: 8-8
NFC North Rank: 4th
It’s hard to believe that the last team in a division will be .500, but that might very well be the case in the NFC North. It’s not a division that’s filled with any overwhelming Super Bowl favorites, but many above-average teams. The Lions finished at 4-12 last year, but held a mediocre 0-6 record in their division. If they want any shot at a postseason berth, that NFC North record needs to improve drastically. Last year, 11 of their 16 matchups were against teams with winning records and 9 of those 11 times were against teams that qualified for the playoffs. This year isn’t that different. They have 10 matchups this season, whose teams had records above .500 last year. In a highly competitive NFC and an even more competitive NFC North, the Detroit Lions don’t stand a chance at making the postseason.
QB Matthew Stafford has been excellent the last couple seasons. Two seasons ago, at the age of 23, Stafford threw for more than 5,000 yards and a whopping 41 touchdowns. Last season was not as great, but he still torched opposing defenses for 4,967 yards, 23 yards shy of 5,000. Part of the reason for his outstanding statistics is that Detroit gives Stafford more passing attempts than any other team gives their respective quarterback. Stafford attempted 727 passes last season, besting QB Drew Brees by 57, who attempted the second most in the league. This west coast offense is attributed to the lack of skill on the rushing end, but primarily because of their superb receiver, WR Calvin Johnson. Last year, Johnson etched his name into the record books when he broke Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record (1964). “Megatron” led the NFL last year in both receiving yards and receptions (122), but only caught 5 touchdown passes from Stafford. Two years ago when Stafford tossed 41 touchdown passes, Johnson was responsible for 16 of those receptions. I see last season’s TD stats as a fluke and Johnson’s touchdown numbers will rebound tremendously this upcoming season to approximately 12-14. As a result, look to Stafford to bounce back in that department as well. A season ago, he only passed for 20 TDs, but he’ll get about 35 next year. The passing game cannot possibly be solely responsible for a team’s winning culture though.
The aforementioned deficiency in running ability in this organization is a major reason for the aerial attack’s prevalence in the offense. The running game has been a major concern for Detroit for the last few seasons. Last year, the Lions ranked 23rd in the league in total rushing yards. But, the Lions made an imperative acquisition this offseason that will hopefully put an end to these concerns. RB Reggie Bush, inked a 4 year-$16 million deal with Detroit in March. The agile Bush rushed for 2,072 yards in his last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. If Bush can average another 1,000-1,200 yards on 4.7 yards per carry this upcoming season, it would prove immensely beneficial to this offensive unit. The heavy dependence on the aerial game can’t possibly sustain a winning record. So, the signing of RB Bush will definitely improve this offense because it adds an element of surprise. Obviously, the Stafford-Johnson tandem is the best QB-WR duo in the league. And they’ll remain a ubiquitous part of the offense, but look for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to attempt to more evenly distribute rushing plays and passing plays in the game plan. This productive rushing game will prove advantageous to Stafford as he won’t have to take on the entire offensive burden each week and opposing defenses won’t be able to predict plays prior to each snap since the Lions will have the ability to mix running plays and passing plays effectively.
Detroit fans have a reason to worry about their defense, since it gave up the 6th most amount of points (437) last season. Their defensive line has a fantastic duo in DT Nick Fairley and DT Ndamukong Suh. Although last season Fairley registered under 6 sacks, he showed some of his capabilities and bright spots throughout the course of the schedule, especially during the latter part. Plus, we have to take into account that last year was only his sophomore year. He has much potential and has a ton of room to improve alongside DT Suh. On the other hand, Suh sacked opposing quarterbacks 22 times in the last three season. That in addition to his rushing defense prowess makes this defensive tackle combo a formidable threat in the league, perhaps even the best DT duo in the league. This unit owned the 15th best rushing defense in terms of rushing yards allowed and 6th worst in yards allowed per carry in the league last year. These statistics should allude to a rush defense unit that is at best run-of-the-mill. To make matters worse, they suffered key losses to their line including DE Cliff Avril and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, who had 9.5 and 3.5 sacks respectively. GM Martin Mayhew drafted DE Ziggy Ansah in the first round of this year’s draft to address the void that was left after the departure of the two defensive ends. The Lions also acquired DE Jason Jones and DE Israel Idonije this offseason to help the line.
Moreover, the linebacker corp lost their best linebacker this offseason in free agency, LB Justin Durant who was second on the team last year in tackles at 103. GM Mayhew failed to acquire any linebacker this offseason who could potentially match Durant’s production. Their secondary for this season consists of CB Chris Houston, CB Darius Slay, SS Glover Quin, and FS Louis Delma, none of whom are noteworthy or All-Pro caliber. Last season, they picked off the 8th fewest number of balls from opposing quarterbacks. Their most impressive interceptors, Chris Houston and Don Carey each tallied two interceptions during the entire season, which is good enough for 52nd in the league.
It’s hard to believe that Detroit managed a 10-6 record and made the postseason back in 2011 with an inconsistent running game and average defense. They won’t be as fortunate until many defensive issues are resolved. This offseason, the Lions lost some crucial components on the defensive unit, but GM Martin Mayhew failed to address these concerns with the exception of drafting DE Ziggy Ansah who has much unrefined talent. Their secondary and linebacker crew are messes and will underperform severely this year. The only bright spot on the defense seems to be the line, which is talent laded with the aforementioned DT duo and the dynamic rookie, Ziggy Ansah. The only reason Detroit will be able to win even half of their games is because the majority of their match ups will turn into shootouts. With an upgraded and more skilled offense, comes a heap of red zone opportunities and consequently, touchdowns and higher scoring games.