*Photo Credit: Detroit Young Professionals
2016 Record: 9-7
NFL Draft: Rd 1 – ILB, Jarrad Davis; Rd 2 – CB, Teez Tabor; Rd 3 – WR, Kenny Golladay; Rd 4 – OLB, Jalen Reeves-Maybin; Rd 4 – TE, Michael Roberts; Rd 5 – CB, Jamal Agnew; Rd 6 – DE, Jeremiah Ledbetter; Rd 6 – QB, Brad Kaaya; Rd 7 – Pat O’Connor
Pitt Players: WR, Dontez Ford #83
After finishing 9-7 in 2016 and suffering a first round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Lions look to improve from last year. The Lions are a team whose offensive game was very one dimensional. They finished 11th in passing yardage, but when it came to scoring and rushing yardage, they finished 20th and 30th respectively. At 207 rushing yards on the season, Matt Stafford had only 150 fewer yards than the team’s leading rusher, Theo Riddick. The loss of starting running back Ameer Abdullah in week 2 to a broken foot is probably the reason for all of this.
The Lions are led on offense by Matthew Stafford, the 2009 number one overall pick who quietly had a great season in 2016. Last year was the 6th consecutive year in which Stafford threw for 4000+ yards and 20+ TDs. 2017 looks to be no different since Stafford is coming off of a strong 2016 in which he was an MVP contender until injuring his throwing hand late in the season, causing his numbers to take a hit. The return of Abdullah should almost definitely lead to a more balanced and successful Lions offense in 2017. Add in rookie Kenny Golladay and veteran running back Zach Zenner, and Stafford may approach the 5000 yard mark he surpassed in 2011.
In 2016, the Lions defense seemed to be one that would bend, but not break. According to ESPN, they finished 19th in pass yardage against and 18th in rush yardage against. Overall they were 18th in total yardage against. However, when it came to defensive scoring they ranked at 13th in the league. The Lions seemed largely content with their offense and went heavy on defense in the draft with six of nine of their picks going to selecting defensive players. Rookies Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor, both from Florida, look to see significant time on the field. Despite losing last season’s team sack leader, Kerry Hyder, for the season to a torn achilles, this defense should still be one of the top 15 units in football.
Game by Game Predictions:
Week 1: Home vs the Arizona Cardinals
The Lions will open up the season at home against the Arizona Cardinals, who lost significant playmakers on defense. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer also struggled last season; and at 37, I don’t think he’s going to bounce back. The only thing the Cardinals have going for them on offense is star running back David Johnson, but that won’t be enough to beat the Lions.
Predicted Score: 27-6 Lions (Current Record: 1-0)
Week 2: Away at the New York Giants
This week two matchup against the Giants will be a litmus test for the Lions season. The Giants are a team with a very good defense and an incredible passing attack on offense led by wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Look for this to be a very good game between two teams that are both playoff worthy. That being said, the Giants defense gives them the edge here.
Predicted Score: 27-24 Giants (Current Record: 1-1)
Week 3: Home vs the Atlanta Falcons
After suffering their first loss of the season, the Lions will return home to face the Falcons, who reached the Super Bowl last year. I believe this season for Atlanta can go one of two ways: they come out strong looking to avenge their historic Super Bowl collapse, or they are still emotionally broken from it and struggle. I’m going to guess that it’ll be more of the latter and they will struggle early on. Stafford should be able to lead his team to a victory here.
Predicted Score: 27-17 Lions (Current Record: 2-1)
Week 4: Away at the Minnesota Vikings
In Week 4, the Lions will travel to Minnesota to play the Vikings and their solid defense in their first divisional game of the season. I think the Packers will win the division, but the Lions will be right there challenging them all season long. Look for Detroit to start out 1-0 in the division with a win here. The Vikings offense just doesn’t seem strong enough to win close games this season.
Predicted Score: 17-7 Lions (Current Record: 3-1)
Week 5: Home vs the Carolina Panthers
In Week 5, the Lions will face off against the Carolina Panthers, a team that unexpectedly struggled last season. That said, I think the Panthers are going to bounce back and be a tough squad to beat this year. Carolina is built around very good young leaders on both sides of the ball in Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly. This should be a good game, but I think the Panthers edge this one out on a late field goal.
Predicted Score: 17-14 Panthers (Current Record: 3-2)
Week 6: Away at the New Orleans Saints
In my season preview of the Saints, I called this one for New Orleans, and I’m sticking to it. The Saints have an incredible offense, and will get two weeks to prepare for this game. Meanwhile, the Lions are going to be coming off of a tough loss to the Panthers. The Saints will get the upset here in a shootout.
Predicted Score: 42-35 Saints (Current Record: 3-3)
Week 7: Bye-Week
After a somewhat difficult first six games, including two heartbreaking losses, the Lions get to their bye week at 3-3. Even though this bye is relatively early, it will go a long way in helping the Lions prepare for their final 10 games, including the 5 against divisional opponents.
Current Predicted Record: 3-3
Week 8: Home vs the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Lions come out of their bye having to play one of the toughest teams in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have a terrific three-headed monster on offense with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown, and running back Le’Veon Bell. I think the Lions are a good team, but they aren’t quite in that top tier along with the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offense will be too much for Detroit to handle, and they will fall under .500 for the first time in the season.
Predicted Score: 31-17 Steelers (Current Record: 3-4)
Week 9: Away at the Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. Luckily for Detroit, this game is on November 6th so it shouldn’t be too cold yet. However, that won’t matter much as the Packers are the better team, and should hand the Lions their fourth consecutive loss.
Predicted Score: 24-10 Packers (Current Record: 3-5)
Week 10: Home vs the Cleveland Browns
After losing four games in a row, what better way to get back on track against two very bad teams. The first of these teams is the Browns. The Lions might struggle early on, but it shouldn’t take more than a quarter for them to get back to normal and cruise through the Browns. This one shouldn’t be close.
Predicted Score: 38-10 Lions (Current Record: 4-5)
Week 11: Away at the Chicago Bears
The second of the two aforementioned bad teams that the Lions will play are their divisional opponent, the Chicago Bears. The Bears should probably be even worse than the Browns this year, and this one will be even uglier than the Lions blowout the previous week. Stafford might even throw for 400+ yards here.
Predicted Score: 42-7 Lions (Current Record: 5-5)
Week 12: Home vs the Minnesota Vikings
After two blowouts to get back to .500, the Lions will host the Minnesota Vikings. As I said earlier, the Vikings offense does not worry me at all this season. The Lions will need a win here to get back in the division title race, and that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Predicted Score: 24-14 Lions (Current Record: 6-5)
Week 13: Away at the Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have been a strong defensive team for quite a few years now, and this year shouldn’t be any different. However, their offense isn’t what it used to be, and with the retired Steve Smith gone, Flacco’s offense lacks any significant weapons. The Lions should be able to pull out a win here.
Predicted Score: 21-10 Lions (Current Record: 7-5)
Week 14: Away at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After following up their four game losing streak with a winning streak of the same length, the Lions will travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is an up-and-coming team with a lot of talented young players. Their offense looks even better with the additions of receiver Desean Jackson and rookie tight end OJ Howard. However, they lack a good defense to go along with the offense, as theirs is average at best. Matthew Stafford is a very good quarterback, and he should be able to expose the Bucs D and lead his team to a win.
Predicted Score: 31-27 Lions (Current Record: 8-5)
Week 15: Home vs the Chicago Bears
There isn’t much to say here as most people know the Bears are a very bad team. It is worth mentioning that this win will give the Lions six straight win. This should be another big game for Stafford.
Predicted Score: 35-6 Lions (Current Record: 9-5)
Week 16: Away at the Cincinnati Bengals
The Lions will get a chance to push their win streak to seven in this matchup against the Bengals. Cincinnati isn’t a terrible team, however they lack an identity outside of their knack for signing controversial players. I don’t think the Bengals are good enough to beat the Lions and end their winning streak.
Predicted Score: 27-14 Lions (Current Record: 10-5)
Week 17: Home vs the Green Bay Packers
This Sunday afternoon game is going to be extremely important for both team’s playoff hopes. It very well could be flexed into the Sunday Night slot. The Lions will be looking to avoid being swept by the Packers for the second year in a row. The division crown may very well might be up for grabs here. As long as both teams have something to play for here, this has the makings of becoming an instant classic. That being said, I think Aaron Rodgers will show us why he’s the better quarterback, and will lead his team to a win. The Lions winning streak will end at seven games.
Predicted Score: 28-21 Packers (Current Record: 10-6)
The Lions should have a good enough record at 10-6 to get a wild card spot, and move on to the playoffs. However, this team just isn’t quite good enough to be included as a top team in the league yet. They lack big time weapons around Stafford, and almost all of those teams that I consider in the top tier have players that can make the difference in a close game. Neither Golden Tate nor Marvin Jones are that kind of player. Until the Lions find the player that they’ve been missing since Calvin Johnson’s retirement, they’re going to become familiar with first round playoff exits.
Predicted Record: 10-6