Sunday, September 11, 2016

2016 Detroit Lions Season Preview

The NFL preseason is mercifully over. We have now entered the purgatory between preseason's last drive and kickoff of the first game. Fans can start making safe guesses about which players gave enough to make the regular team and who might have missed out. The Detroit Lions finished their four games against a middling AFC North division (sans Cleveland; plus Buffalo) with comfortable 2-2 record. I didn't watch all of them--it is still the preseason after all--but I caught some action here and there. And naturally, I have some thoughts as the Lions enter the 2016 campaign.

First, of course, many eyes will be on the wide receiving core, now less the future Hall-of-Famer Calvin Johnson. That has been the story for much of the off-season, both in Lions-centric publications and at the national level. It's true: losing one of the Lions' best offensive weapons and truly one of the best receivers in the league leaves quite a large gap in that offense.

Actually, though, Detroit has done an effective job turning the offense for the better. To complement the already exciting backfield of Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick (one of the best receiving backs in the league), the team has added veteran wideouts Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin, and Andre Roberts. Rookie Dwayne Washington excited fans during the preseason. Not to mention, Golden Tate, who will be the primary target after Johnson’s retirement, has the potential for his second 1,000 yard season. Matthew Stafford is a solid quarterback with some terrific weapons.

The issue, however, is in the offensive and defensive lines. Stafford may be good, but no one can expect him to win many games if he is constantly under pressure. He has been sacked an astounding 89 times in the last two seasons. The defense has not been much more impressive, in the bottom third in points allowed. There have been some improvements in the lines--notably Taylor Decker, an offensive tackle drafted in the first round--but I worry that may not be enough.

It may be telling that the most exciting part of last season was a shakeup in the front office. Mid-season hire and media darling Jim Bob Cooter shook up the team as the offensive coordinator, and I cannot wait to see what he has done with the offense in the offseason. And Bob Quinn, former scout for New England, is heading into his first full season as Detroit general manager. His popularity with Lions fans rose during the draft, and it’s always nice to get some Patriot blood in an organization. One of the only remaining pieces from (abysmal) years past, is head coach Jim Caldwell. The head coach position could stand to be freshened up, so I think (read: hope) he is on a short leash for the upcoming year.

As of this writing, the over/under is set at 7.5 wins for Detroit. That seems fair to me. By my count, I see at least seven winnable games, with--I imagine--plus or minus two that they should win (but blow late) or have no business winning (and catch a lucky break). It is the NFL after all! The Lions should have no problem doing exactly as well as last year to finish 7-9. Honestly, they should have won more than seven games last year. Despite playing six games in a tough NFC North division, their non-divisional schedule is against a weakened NFC East and an even weaker AFC South. Does Detroit have the pieces to win their first ever Super Bowl? Of course not. Can they make the Playoffs? Still questionable. The way I see it, the Lions will be in competition for a wild card spot with the Minnesota Vikings. I can only hope that competition remains close.

In any case, I’ll be watching. Go Lions!