Detroit Lions 2011 NFL Predictions
The Detroit Lions are excited to get the 2011 season underway and Ndamukong Suh gave us his own NFL predictions when he said that his team was going to go 16-0 this season. He may have been half-kidding, but the Lions’ defense will be no joke when they take the field for the first time this season. The Lions went 6-10 last year in a season that saw their starting quarterback miss a significant amount of time once again. The Lions expect him to be at full strength and they are going to need him to be at the top of his game if they expect to compete with the rest of the NFC North. Their division is going to be incredibly tough, as the Minnesota Vikings now have Donovan McNabb under center and both the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers made it to the NFC Championship Game in 2010.
Offense: The Lions’ offense has clearly been the strength of this team over the past few years, and this season should be no different. Quarterback Matthew Stafford looked a lot more consistent in his second season until injuries cut it short, but if he can stay healthy this year and live up to his potential, he’ll have a great target in Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Johnson, who has averaged 74 receptions, 1,145 yards, and 10 touchdowns over his last three seasons, will draw most of the attention in the secondary, But now, Stafford will also have former Boise State receiver, Titus Young, as an option after the Lions picked him up in the draft. The Lions are also stocked at running back, with Jahvid Best coming off of a stellar rookie season in which he compiled 58 receptions and 117 rushing attempts for a combined total of over 1000 yards. Best also tallied six touchdowns last year and he will need to have a solid season once again now that Illinois rookie, Mikel Leshoure will be out for the season with a torn ACL.
With starting tackles Jeff Backus (on the active/non-football injury list with a partially torn chest muscle) and Gosder Cherilus (still recovering from December microfracture surgery) out with injuries and just nine healthy linemen eligible to practice, the Lions mixed and matched blocking combinations during their first full-padded practice of training camp Tuesday. Jason Fox replaced Backus at first-team left tackle, and took snaps at guard. Rookie Johnny Culbreath played both tackle positions. Even starting left guard Rob Sims got into the action with cameos at left tackle, the position he played in college at Ohio State, and even played center during a half line drill. This is going to be great for that young group of guys, who will be learning what the other positions on the line are responsible for.
Defense: Detroit is trying to change the culture of its team by shoring up the defense. After drafting Auburn’s Nick Fairley in the first round of the 2010 draft, the Lions are expected to have one of the scariest defensive lines in the league. The group includes Fairley and Kyle Vanden Bosch, but is led by last year’s defensive rookie of the year, Ndamukong Suh. Unfortunately, Fairley already suffered a foot injury in the first week of practice and will be rushing to get ready by opening day.
The Lions turned 10.48% of opposing teams’ pass plays into either an interception or a sack, which was 6th best in the NFL, and by making a few additions to the secondary and the linebacker corps, that number should improve this year. The Lions signed former Browns’ CB Eric Wright, which should help shore up a Lions secondary that allowed opposing quarterbacks to finish with an 89.17 QB rating (23rd overall) as well as allowing 7.3 yards per pass attempt (26th).
Just a week ago, it looked like the linebacker position could be a weak link for Detroit. The addition of Carpenter – along with the acquisitions of Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant and fifth-round draft pick Doug Hogue – has flipped the script. While it remains to be seen if it will be a position of strength, the depth is there. Veteran linebacker Bobby Carpenter was also at Lions practice on Wednesday after agreeing to a contract with the team. Although his deal was done, he was unable to participate in drills, but was slated to take his physical.
Special Teams: The special teams unit is still an area with a few unanswered questions. One area that needs to be addressed is the punting game. University of Iowa undrafted rookie Ryan Donahue agreed to terms with the Lions late Monday night to create some competition in camp. Donahue had an average of 44.6 yards per punt last year, which ranked him 15th in the nation. Detroit’s current punter, Nick Harris, does not seem bothered by the signing at all.
Kicking: The Lions signed kicker Dave Rayner to a one-year deal late last season after veteran Jason Hanson suffered an injury against the Jets. Rayner did a great job for Detroit in the last half of the season and Jason Hanson, who is now 41 years old, will have to show that he is healthy in order to win back that starting role. In my opinion, I see the Lions sticking with the veteran, Hanson, as we know that he has always been reliable for the Lions, whereas Rayner had a great year last year, but has bounced from team to team in the past.
Coaching: Jim Schwartz served as the Tennessee Titans’ defensive coordinator from 2001 until 2008, and was runner-up to Mike Nolan for the San Francisco 49ers’ head coaching position in 2005. Schwartz took over as the Detroit Lions’ head man in 2009 following the team’s winless season. In 2009, he put up two victories and followed that up with six in 2010. There is no question that he has this team moving in the right direction, but the Lions just aren’t ready to compete within the division and much less, the conference.
Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in NFC North
Regular season Win Total: Over 7.5 Games (-130), Under 7.5 Games (Even)
To Win the NFC North: +500 (Three of Four)
To Win 2012 NFC Championship: +1500 (15 to 1)
To Win Super Bowl XLVI: +3000 (30 to 1)