Head Coach: Jim Caldwell
2014 record: 11-6 overall, 5-1 NFC North
2014 Postseason results: Lost to Dallas Cowboys 24-20 in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs
Odds to win Super Bowl 50: 38/1
Odds to win NFC Championship: 16/1
Odds to win NFC North Division: +615
Regular season wins: over 8 -150 / under 8 +120
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Since winning the NFL Championship in 1957, the Detroit Lions have exactly one playoff win in 1991. Last year, after an 11-5 season, the Lions led the NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys 17-7 at halftime on the road in the NFC Wild Card Playoff.
After a Dallas field goal early in the fourth quarter made it 20-17 Detroit, the Lions were driving. Officials threw a flag for pass interference on third and one against the Cowboys but after consulting they inexplicably picked up the flag, nullifying the penalty. The Lions would try to draw the Cowboys offsides on fourth and one but were called for delay of game. After a punt that only went 10 yards, Dallas took over and drove down the field for the go-ahead touchdown. The Cowboys would hold on for the 24-20 win.
Detroit, coached by Jim Caldwell, made the playoffs last year for only the second time since 1999. The Lions traveled to Green Bay in the last game of the regular season with the NFC North title on the line. Green Bay would win that game 30-20.
This year, the Lions are expected to again contend for the NFC North title or at least a wild card spot. Detroit has not won a division title since 1993.
Detroit averaged 341 yards per game on offense last year, including 252 passing and 89 rushing yards. The Lions were #12 in passing and #28 in rushing. Detroit averaged 20.1 points per game. Offesnive coordinator Joe Lombardi looks for improvement in his second season.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 4,257 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and rushed for 96 yards with 2 touchdowns. Stafford cut down his interceptions from 19 in 2013 but he still makes too many mistakes to be considered an elite quarterback. He has started every game over the last four seasons. Dan Orlovsky is the back-up.
Running back Joique Bell is back after rushing for 860 yards on 223 carries with 7 touchdowns, along with 34 catches for 322 yards and a touchdown. Reggie Bush is now with the San Francisco 49ers after rushing for 297 yards on 76 carries with 2 touchdowns, and making 40 catches for 253 yards. The Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah in the second round out of Nebraska. Abdullah rushed for over 1,600 yards with 19 touchdowns last year for Nebraska and also had just under 300 receiving yards with 3 touchdowns. George Winn and Theo Riddick will also get some carries. Michael Burton, a fifth round pick out of Rutgers will start at fullback.
Calvin Johnson is still one of the best receivers in football. He made only one catch in the month of October after reaggravating an ankle injury in the first game of that month in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Still, Johnson made 71 catches for 1,077 yards and 8 touchdowns. Golden Tate had 99 catches for 1,331 yards and 4 touchdowns. Together, Johnson and Tate make up one of the best receiving duos in the league. Running back Riddick had 34 catches for 316 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jeremy Ross had 24 catches for 314 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Eric Ebron looks to improve after a disappointing rookie year with 25 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Corey Fuller and tight ends Joseph Fauria & Brandon Pettigrew will also get some targets.
The offensive line underwent a major overhaul after giving up 45 sacks last season and failing to open up holes for the anemic running game. Dominic Raiola had been the starting center for the Lions for 14 seasons but was released after last year. He has yet to picked up by a team and will likely retire unless a team picks him up as an injury replacement. Travis Swanson is the new center. Right guard Rob Sims is also gone and has yet to be picked up. The Lions drafted Laken Tomlinson out of Duke as his replacement in the first round. Right guard Larry Warford looks to stay healthy in 2015 after an injury plagued season last year. Reilly Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle will start at the tackles.
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While in the past, the Lions were known for having a great offense and a suspect defense, it was the opposite last year. The Lions were #2 in total defense at 301 yards per game, including 232 passing and 69 rushing yards. Detroit led the league in rush defense and was #13 in pass defense. The Lions were tied for second in points allowed at 17.6 per game. Teryl Austin returns as the defensive coordinator for his second season.
The defensive line will look completely different in 2015. Tackle Ndamukong Suh signed as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins after making 8.5 sacks last year. Suh is one of the top defensive linemen in the league despite his reputation as a dirty player. He will be difficult to replace, but the Lions did acquire Haloti Ngata in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. The veteran had 31 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 interceptions last year. Tackles Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley are now with the St. Louis Rams and Ravens respectively. Tyrunn Walker was signed as a free agent from the New Orleans Saints. Walker and Ngata will start at the tackles in 2015. Rookie Gabe Wright, a fourth round pick out of Auburn will also see time in the rotation at tackle.
The ends lose George Johnson, but there is more stability on the outside than the inside. Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones return as the starting ends. Ansah and Jones combined for 12.5 sacks last season. Ansah could post double digit sack totals if he can stay healthy.
Outside linebacker DeAndre Levy had 151 tackles last season, and returns to anchor a strong unit. Stephen Tulloch returns in the middle, after missing most of last year with a torn ACL. Kyle Van Noy is also back for his second season and is recovered from a sports hernia that hampered his rookie season. He was a sack machine in college at BYU and Detroit hopes for a similar performance on the outside. Tahir Whitehead will also see time on the outside after making 86 tackles and two interceptions last year.
Safety Glover Quin had 73 tackles and 7 interceptions last year in an All-Pro season. James Ihedigbo had 71 tackles and 4 interceptions. He held out during the off-season for more money but is at training camp. Rayshean Mathis and Darius Slay return at the corners. Slay had 61 tackles, 17 pass break-ups, and 2 interceptions. Detroit also drafted corners Alex Carter (3rd round, Stanford) and Quandre Diggs (6th round, Texas).
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The kicking game was an absolute disaster early last season. Rookie Nate Freese and Alex Henery were a combined 4/12 on field goals. The Lions missed 3 field goals in a 17-14 loss at home to the Bills. Detroit signed veteran kicker Matt Prater as a free agent in the middle of last year. He made 21 of 26 field goals. He will return as the kicker in 2015. Punter Sam Martin averaged 40.1 net yards per punt and landed 29 punts inside the 20. However, his 10 yard shank led to the game winning touchdown drive by the Cowboys in the playoff game. Jeremy Ross will once again return kicks and punts. Abdullah returned kicks in college and he could be a factor in the return game as well.
The Lions open the season with road games at the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings, before hosting the Denver Broncos. October brings a road game at the Seattle Seahawks on a Monday night, before home games against the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears and Vikings. The Lions open November in London against the Kansas City Chiefs before going on their bye in week nine. The rest of November includes a road game at the Packers, before home games against the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving. In December, Detroit hosts Green Bay on a Thursday night. Then comes road games against the Rams and Saints on a Monday night. The Lions end the season with a home game against the San Francisco 49ers and a road game at the Bears.
While the defense probably won’t be as dominant as they were last year, they will still be very good. The offense needs a more consistent running game and better pass protection. That all hinges on a revamped offensive line. Still, I think this team wins 10 games and makes the playoffs again as a wild card.
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