The 12th Man’s tour of the other NFL team continues it’s way through the NFC North, this time to Detroit. I’ve been amazed at how many people don’t remember, or didn’t realize to begin with, just how good the Lions were last season.
Helping my out this time around is the incomparable Zac Snyder from The SideLion Report.
Biggest Team Need Heading Into Offseason: Secondary
Key Free Agents Retained: Stephen Tulloch, Jeff Backus, Cliff Avril (via franchise tag), Kevin SmithKey Player Additions: NoneKey Players Leaving: Eric Wright is the only starter that will not return. I’ll let others decide if that qualifies as a “key loss”.
Quick Thoughts on Draft: The Lions did a great job of addressing current and future needs without reaching out of desperation. The pick of WR Ryan Broyles in the second round caught everyone off guard but it was a pick they made because they believe in his value. The team faced similar criticism after taking Titus Young in the second round in 2011 but that has turned out looking good so far. Riley Reiff is the future left tackle the Lions need, Broyles will allow for a seamless offensive transition post-Nate Burleson and the Lions finished off the draft with a number of intriguing defensive players that can contribute on special teams while they work their way into the lineup.
Quick Thoughts on 2012 schedule: The NFC North portion will be very difficult but the Lions catch a break by getting matched up with the NFC West and AFC South. There are enough teams in those divisions that the Lions should beat that they can absorb a few loses in the division and still compete for a playoff spot in the NFC.
Most Interesting Roster Battle: I’m most interested to watch the cornerback play during the preseason. Chris Houston is locked in as a starter and word out of the Lions’ offseason program makes it sounds like Aaron Berry will be the other starter with Jacob Lacey the frontrunner for time covering the slot. While the top of the CB depth chart seems to be taking shape there are a lot of unanswered questions. The Lions also have veteran Alphonso Smith who has flashed moments of both brilliance and bone-headedness as well as a three-man draft class of corners. There just isn’t going to be room for everyone.
Biggest Strength Heading Into 2012: With Matthew Stafford emerging as an elite quarterback and Calvin Johnson, it’s obviously the passing game. Beyond those two, the Lions have a number of capable wide receivers and running backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield. The Lions have invested in their offense, and passing game in particular, heavily over the past few years and it has paid off.
Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2012: Consistency in the defensive backfield. The Lions secondary wasn’t as bad as they showed in their final two games but they did have a propensity to give up too many big plays. That needs to stop.
Biggest Question Still To Be Answered: How will the running back situation play out? Jahvid Best is the presumed starter with Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith willing and able to contribute as well. It is a really solid trio on paper but all three players have dealt with injury problems. It’s possible all three could make it through the season unscathed, but it’s also possible that all three might be called upon to be a featured back out of necessity.
2012 Prediction: Another 10-6 season and playoff appearance.
The Lions were a surprise team in 2011 (at least to me). I’ve been so used to them being awful that their success completely caught me off guard. I love their offense. Anyone who says it’s just Megatron isn’t paying attention. Good line play and good QB play are at the heart of their success, and Jahvid Best is no slouch either. Stafford is the QB the Lions thought they were drafting with the first overall pick. He just needed to stay healthy long enough to show it.