NFC North Preview: Detroit Lions
Projected 2011 Finish: 3rd NFC North
Projected 2011 Record: 8 - 8
2010 Record: 6 -10
(Preface: I know I started these NFC North previews late and as I write the Detroit Lions are now 3 - 0. But I have to stick to the predictions I made before the season started; as if I am not writing this in week 3 of the season. This goes for all the teams I write about in this series.)
If the preseason had meant something, the Detroit Lions would've been atop the NFC North having gone 4 - 0. The last time they went undefeated in the preseason the Lions went on to lose all 16 games of the 2008 NFL season. Well, this isn't 2008 and they have a totally different mentality in that locker room. The Lions finished 2010 in style, winning the last four games in a row. They finished 6 - 10, but did you know that 7 out of 10 of their loses were by 8 points or less! If four of those games swing their way we may have been talking playoffs last year.
Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson. Young, skill position players that this offense has built around and they look like they will do opposing teams some damage for years to come. Last year, Stafford looked promising. Too bad it was only all of 3 games though. If they can keep him on the field I feel like he could be a 3,500 yard passer. Especially with a WR nicknamed Megatron (what a great nickname that is). All Stafford has to do is throw it somewhere in the realm of Johnson and he'll come down with it. Best went down quite a bit last year with nagging injuries, yet played in all 16 games. He racked up over 1,000 all purpose yards from the line of scrimmage because he is an excellent reciever out of the backfield. Stafford has some weapons, now the coaching staff has to harness what they have and put up some points.
Doesn't it seem like this Offensive line is one of the worst in the league? I say that because its not true. The line gave up 27 sacks last season to three different QBs. That's not too bad in the great scheme of things. If Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola seem like they've been Detroit Lions for the better part of three decades it's because they both have been. Well, maybe not three decades, but both are entering their 11th season at Left Tackle and Center respectively. They have been perminant fixtures on what could be a decent Offensive line this year. Let's see if they can keep Stafford off the IR and allow him to get to the potential the Lions believe he has.
This could be the best defensive line not only in the NFC North but in the whole NFL as well. I know its a bold statement, but it might be true. Corey Williams, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and when he gets healthy, Nick Fairley. Let's face it, Ndamukong Suh is a monsterous beast. He's been accused of being a dirty player from a small sample size of "dirty" plays Granted, trying to rip the head off of a QB is pretty sketchy, but if you're a Lions fan, don't you want that kind of nastiness in your defensive players?
Their LB crew gets a bit younger as they replace Julian Peterson with a couple of younger guys they snagged away from the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Stephen Tulloch will take over at MLB and Justin Durant at OLB. If these guys can clean up whatever scraps this Defensive line leaves behind it will be awfully hard for opposing teams to sustain a decent running attack for an entire game.
The secondary concerns me. Solid opposing QBs are going to pick apart the set of inexperienced Safties the Lions have back there. Amari Spievey came on nicely in his rookie year last season and now becomes the full time starter at SS, but he needs to prove he can be a ball hawk. Here's a stat for you: the 2011 starting secondary for the Lions combined for 4 interceptions during the 2010 season, with 2 of those coming from Spievey himself. They're going to have to have more takeaways back in the secondary for this defense to be called legitimate.
Coming into the 2011 season, Detroit has been the sexy pick to upset some teams and maybe make a playoff run. I can't remember so many people jumping on the Lions bandwagon since Barry Sanders and Scott Mitchell were carving up opposing defenses. Alas, I cannot do the same. Although I think this team has made major strides, especially through the draft and developing their own, young talent, I feel as though this group still may be one or two years away from snagging a wild card spot away from the likes of Atlanta, Chicago or even Tampa Bay. Finishing at .500 this year would be an accomplishment, seeing as though Detroit is only 3 years removed from the Matt Millan fiasco, I mean era.