Matt Stafford got paid this offseason. The nine-year veteran became the highest paid quarterback in the history of the league. He definitely deserves it. He is an elite quarterback, with years of experience and solid targets in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and the exciting, young Kenny Golladay. The issue is whether or not he will be protected on the line. The biggest tragedy1 in Detroit sports this year--and I don’t think I’m over-exaggerating--is losing last year’s first-round draft pick, offensive tackle, Taylor Decker to a shoulder injury. As a rookie, Decker started all 16 games last season, and his injury leaves a huge hole in the line. There’s a chance he may be able to return for the playoffs, but the Lions will have to get to that point without him.
The quarterback isn’t the only spot the offensive line needs to protect, though. For the first time in a long time, the Lions have a bit of a running game. Ironically, the first time the Lions don’t have a newly drafted “next Barry Sanders.” But they should be just fine with the pieces they have. Ameer Abdullah looks healthy at last and Theo Riddick is available to reel in screen passes in the short backfield. Of course, their skills are all dependent on whether the offensive line can create some running lanes.
Basically, this entire season may hinge on the success of the offensive line. Do you still think Taylor Decker’s injury is overrated2?
After earning a wild card playoff spot last season followed by an early exit to the Seahawks, can the Lions return to that stage this year? Sure, but there are a few problems with that, most prominently, the team in Green Bay. The Packers have had the keys to the NFC North for several years, and for the Lions to guarantee a spot, they have to top them. If they can’t, they will have to compete for a wild card against a tough NFC South with three (four?) playoff contenders3 and a perennially difficult NFC East.
As the Lions have one of the hardest schedules I can remember in recent years, it will not be easy. They have to make it through a slightly weakened but still decent AFC North division, which should be good for two wins. The Lions also have to play the aforementioned NFC South, who has supplied the last two NFC Super Bowl opponents (and the last two league MVPs). All four of those games will be trials, so I would be overjoyed to split those games. If they can scrape out 10 wins, they should have a good shot. Unfortunately, as hard as I try, I can only come up with 8 or 9. We will need to rely on more Matthew Stafford late-game magic for hopes of returning to the postseason.
1 Deaths, notwithstanding. I don’t want to be morbid here.↩
2 The most underrated tragedy is Malik Monk not falling ONE more spot in the NBA Draft.↩
3 Not to mention three or four elite quarterbacks.↩