2012 NFC North Preview: Detroit Lions

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by Andrew Coughlin

Projected 2012 Finish: 3rd NFC North

Projected 2012 Record: 10-6

2011 Record: 10-6

The Detroit Lions made a giant, unexpected step forward into the playoffs last year.  Their first playoff appearance since 1999.  At 10-6, it was also their first winning record since 2000 and it was only four seasons ago that the Lions finished 0-16.  They drafted their QB of the future in Matthew Stafford that same year and now are building around him and WR Calvin Johnson on offense, while building the defense around ferocious DT Ndamukong Suh.

OFFENSE

Tom Brady.  Drew Brees.  Dan Marino.  Mathew Stafford?  Who would have thought Stafford would be apart of this illustrious group of QBs?  Each of these guys has throw for over 5,000 yards in a season.  In fact, before last season, only two players had done it.  Well, Stafford has that on his resume and now looks to lead this team back to the playoffs. Stafford's 2011 stat line: 41 TDs; 16 INTs; 5,038 YDs; 63.5 Comp % and a 97.2 QBR.  Not a bad year for a guy who was in a QB controversy a year ago with backup Shaun Hill.

Stafford threw 1,681 of those 5,038 YDs to Calvin Johnson; a WR in a class of his own right now.  He also had 96 REC and 16 TDs and this year, as was the case last year, teams will not only blanket Johnson with their best CB, but provide safety help over the top all game as well.  Teams will surely try to shut down Johnson this year, which should open the door for WR Titus Young and TE Brandon Pettigrew.  I'm just not so sure teams will be able to do so.

DEFENSE

I'm pretty sure Ndamukong Suh would sack his own mother and then bury her head in the turf while using her chin as a crutch as he gets up.  Although his stats don't show it (10 sacks in his rookie year; only 4 sacks last season), Suh certainly anchors not only the defensive line, but the entire defensive unit altogether.  Maybe one of the best defensive fronts in all of football, Suh makes Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams and Nick Fairley that much better and gives them more opportunities for one-on-one matchups.

Last season, Detroit's secondary was bad.  So bad that it prompted them to draft three CBs, one of whom will start on opening day.  50% of their starters in the defensive backfield are new and the all important nickel defense will be relied upon heavily once the season gets going.  This might give opposing QBs a chance to capitalize on the youth back there.

Detroit's defense did have 34 takeaways (21 INTs), good for third in the NFL last year.  As we all know, winning the turnover battle on game day brings a significant advantage to your team.  The Lions were plus 11 in that category in 2011, which should give their defense a boost as it looks to mature even more this season.

They're still a young, yet talented squad with a lot of potential for the foreseeable future, but with youth comes immaturity.  Sometimes that immaturity shows on and off the field and affects the quality of this team.  It starts and stops with head coach Jim Schwartz.  Some have said Schwartz's brazen character hinders this group of young men, but with him at the helm the Lions have steadily become a winning franchise again.

A step backwards might not be a surprise, but look for Detroit to be in the playoff hunt once again this season.

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