- Matthew Stafford is the most underappreciated superstar in football, and he gives the Lions a fighting chance to make the playoffs this season.
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Lions 2018 win total: 8 (+130 over, -150 under)
Lions 2017 record: 9-7
Key offseason acquisitions: HC Matt Patricia, LB Devon Kennard, LB Christian Jones, TE Luke Willson, TE Levine Toilolo, RB LeGarrette Blount, DT Sylvester Williams, DT Ricky Jean Francois
Key offseason losses: HC Jim Caldwell, DC Teryl Austin, LB Tahir Whitehead, TE Eric Ebron, DT Haloti Ngata, CB D.J. Hayden, TE Darren Fells, C Travis Swanson
Five things to keep in mind before betting the Lions’ win total
1. Here’s the worst of the bad news: The Vikings play in the NFC North. So does Aaron Rodgers, whose collarbone is once again intact. And now Khalil Mack, one of the top pass rushers in the league, is in Chicago. Detroit squeaked out nine wins each of the past two years, but keep in mind that in 2016 the Vikings were plucking folks off the streets of the Twin Cities to fill out their injury-plagued offensive line, and the Packers, of course, played more than half of last season without Aaron Rodgers. Detroit actually got Brett Hundley twice last season (both wins). The toughness of the NFC North is mitigated somewhat by the matchups with the AFC East (winnable games against three of those opponents) and an early-season matchup at Dallas, who could still be without stud center Travis Frederick.
2. Matthew Stafford is the most underappreciated superstar in football—in large part because the Lions aren’t on TV very much. Since Calvin Johnson’s retirement, Stafford has carried arguably the worst offensive supporting cast in football on his back, a one-dimensional attack with zero threat of a run game, with a bunch of guys who would be second or third receivers on any other team. Stafford’s combination of arm strength, athleticism and ability to make plays late in the down lead to a handful of impossible-to-defend throws every season. And then there’s his flair for the dramatic (an absurd 26 fourth-quarter comebacks in nine seasons—for comparison’s sake Tom Brady has 34 over 17 seasons), which makes Stafford capable of carrying the Lions to wins they have no right getting. However, the supporting cast looks to be much improved this year...
3. No need to waste time documenting the Lions’ comedically poor run game during Stafford’s career. GM Bob Quinn has gone out of his way to correct that. Detroit, on paper, has an elite offensive line—again, no one seems to pay attention to this team, but Decker-Ragnow-Glasgow-Lang-Wagner is without question a top-five group, and is in the running to be the league’s second-best O-line this year (behind Dallas, of course). Now, after clearing out the dead weight left by the last regime, the Lions have a three-headed monster with stud rookie Kerryon Johnson (don’t worry about his light usage in the preseason, there was no need to burn him out), a still-thumping LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick, who’s basically the modern-day Danny Woodhead without the stale jokes about scrappiness. The running game has a chance to be great, a complete 180 from every other season of Stafford’s career. If Kenny Golladay turns last year’s flashes into a full emergence in Year 2, the receiving trio of Tate-Marvin Jones-Golladay is quietly pretty good. And, with Stafford throwing to them, potentially even better than that.
4. It’s too early to make a determination on Matt Patricia (on account of his zero meaningful games as a head coach), and you worry about the lack of a pass rush. But the Lions are loaded with quietly excellent players on the back seven, led by rising second-year stud linebacker Jarrad Davis (whose limited usage last season was nothing short of baffling). Quandre Diggs is a prototypical safety for the modern era, capable of coming down an covering like a cornerback, and Darius Slay is a legitimate No. 1 corner. There’s plenty here for Patricia to work with—significantly more talent than he had last year in New England.
5. One thing that’s come out of Detroit the past two summers—the team is finding things especially difficult around cut-down time. Basically, the Lions feel like they have a surplus of quality players; the roster might be short on headliners, but depth matters in the NFL. Like any team, they can’t afford to lose their superstar QB, but Detroit is uniquely equipped to survive a rash of injuries should it come.
PICK: OVER 8 Wins
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