Despite getting hot in the middle of 2016, the Detroit Lions stumbled down the stretch of the season, losing their last three games. They managed to make the playoffs with a 9-7 record and earned a trip to Seattle. The trip was ultimately unsuccessful, falling 26-6 to the 12th man, and the playoff winless streak for the Lions continued. The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991, and they’ve lost their last eight in the playoffs. On top of that, the franchise hasn’t won a road playoff game since 1957. The Lions days of being bottom feeders of the league look to be behind them, but can they finally break through and end their playoff drought?
|Paul Worrilow, LB||DeAndre Levy, LB|
|D. J. Hayden, DB||Riley Reiff, OT|
|T. J. Lang, OG||Larry Warford, OG|
|Matt Asiata, RB||Andre Roberts, WR|
|Greg Robinson, OT||Josh Bynes, LB|
|Cyrus Kouandjio, OT||Anquan Boldin, WR|
The Lions lost a lot of key pieces in the offseason, so there will be a level of unfamiliarity to start the season. Losing DeAndre Levy was unfortunate, but after a great 2014 season, Levy battled injury issues and couldn't find his way onto the field. Also, with the departure of Anquan Boldin, there are plenty of redzone targets to go around, as Boldin accounted for eight touchdowns in 2016.
The Lions are seemingly recommitting to the run game, which is much needed after ranking 30th in the league on the ground. The addition of T. J. Lang was arguably the best signing for the Lions this offseason. Lang has been a stalwart for the Packers since 2009, and we all know how much time Aaron Rodgers is afforded in the pocket.
The Lions have already said they want to recommit to the run game this year, which should help them be less predictable. The offensive line weapons they have picked up this offseason should help matters so long as they can mesh with the rest of the guys.
|1||vs Arizona Cardinals|
|2||@ New York Giants|
|3||vs Atlanta Falcons|
|4||@ Minnesota Vikings|
|5||vs Carolina Panthers|
|6||@ New Orleans Saints|
|8||vs Pittsburgh Steelers|
|9||@ Green Bay Packers|
|10||vs Cleveland Browns|
|11||@ Chicago Bears|
|12||vs Minnesota Vikings|
|13||@ Baltimore Ravens|
|14||@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|15||vs Chicago Bears|
|16||@ Cincinnati Bengals|
|17||vs Green Bay Packers|
The Lions have a rather tough schedule this year, and with their recent history of late season collapses, it's going to take a hot start in order to get back to the playoffs. Don't let the projected strength of schedule (ranked 21st) fool you, plenty of the opponents on the slate improved in the offseason. The Lions must win the games they are supposed to win, and they can't rely on Matthew Stafford to lead them back in the fourth quarter for every win.
Lions fans will be happy to see they are scheduled for three primetime games, including two Monday night games.
Three players to watch: Ameer Abdullah, running back
Abdullah was drafted in 2015 to be the future of the Detroit Lions running game. While seeing limited action in 2015, Abdullah was set to be the full-time starter in 2016. That was until the second game of the year when Abdullah suffered a torn ligament in his foot which sidelined him for the rest of the year. The buzz out of training camp has been great for Abdullah, and it sounds like he will lead the backfield in carries as long as he can stay healthy.
I expect Theo Riddick to have his role as a third down back, but Abdullah will compete for passing down work. He's a versatile player, and he can do a lot when he gets the ball in his hands. However, even though the Lions want to run the ball more, a complete offensive transformation shouldn't be expected. I'm sure they will still throw a decent amount, but an established run game from Ameer Abdullah should help the entire offense.
Kenny Golladay, wide receiver
The third round draft pick out of Northern Illinois is a physical freak and a matchup nightmare. At 6'4" and 213lbs, reports have already come out saying Golladay will have a redzone role. With eight touchdowns missing from the departure of Anquan Boldin, Golladay could have a key role in his rookie season. Overall, the reports out of training came for Golladay have been glowing, and wide receiver depth for this team is a very welcome sight.
Ezekiel Ansah, defensive end
"Ziggy" had an off year in 2016, as he was merely a shell of the player he was in 2015. Ansah had 14.5 sacks in 2015 compared to the 2 he accumulated in the 2016 regular season. Ansah missed three games early in 2016, and he never looked the same after he returned. However, in the wild card game loss to the Seahawks, Ansah pressured Russell Wilson and recorded two sacks in the game, matching his regular season total. If he can get back to his prime, along with last season's emergence of Kerry Hyder, the Lions pass rush could be dangerous.
Despite the praise, there is still plenty to be seen with this team. It's hard to put your faith into a team that had all their wins (except for one) come by seven points or less. What Matthew Stafford did in 2016 was nothing short of remarkable, and had he not dislocated his middle finger, he could have contended for the MVP and possibly led his team to an NFC North title. Top to bottom, there are still a lot of "ifs" on the roster, and I'll believe it when I see it.
That being said, I have the Lions projected for a 7-9 record, but still finishing second in the NFC North. Some of the losses I have them projected for are the typical trap games they take for granted every season, but a 9-7 record or better isn't out of the question. The Lions must stay focused and committed to make the playoffs, and if all the pieces mesh, it's definitely possible. Don't lose faith, Lions fans.
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