The Detroit Lions are a team on the rise in 2015. The question is whether they can understand how much of a rise they can make to become an elite team in the NFL quick enough for fans to be happy.
As we all remember, the Lions were bounced in the NFC Wildcard Playoffs in January against the Dallas Cowboys. The team didn’t complain for very long, well, not nearly as long as the fans did after the bogus referee calls in the game,.
Instead, the team worked on getting better. In the offseason, they let go of running back Reggie Bush & drafted Ameer Abdullah from Nebraska. Abdullah is a similar running back to Bush, but a bit smaller & can hit the holes between the offensive line much quicker at this point in his football life than the elder Bush.
With Abdullah & the powerful running back Joique Bell in the backfield, the Lions will have a nice 1-2 punch to give quarterback Matthew Stafford the offensive comfort he will need to succeed & keep defenses honest.
Speaking of Stafford, this has to be the year for him to become a true elite quarterback. We have said this before with him, but its more important than ever that Stafford is able to lead this team to a playoff victory & deeper into the playoffs. He has been healthy for the last couple of seasons & with the contract extension the team signed him to in the offseason, its now or never. The team drafted Stafford to be the franchise quarterback to take the Lions into that SuperBowl level & fans are starting to grow a bit weary with him.
He has the weapons around him in a strong running game & not to mention, two of the most consistent wide receivers in the NFL in Calvin Johnson & Golden Tate III. Johnson is a clear Hall of Famer but he needs to have a bit of a bounce back season, at least based on the standards that fans & coaches have for Johnson. Johnson still had over 70 catches & 1,000 yards, but missing 3 full games during the season hurt those numbers & in 2 other games, he was used as more of a decoy than anything else.
Golden Tate was the true receiving star of the Detroit Lions last year, having 99 receptions for 1,331 yards. Tate was a great short to intermediate threat & a safety blanket for Stafford. This season, if Calvin Johnson is fully healthy, Tate should get over 100 catches & more opportunities to get into the end zone on a consistent basis.
Along with having great receivers, the Lions have two tight ends that will be strong in the running game but will be more effective in the downfield passing game in second-year player Eric Ebron & Brandon Pettigrew. Pettigrew has had the case of the drops over the last few seasons & was hampered by injuries last year, but if healthy, physically & mentally, Pettigrew & Ebron can help Stafford have so many weapons in the passing game that it could be very scary in the NFC North & NFC as a whole.
On the defensive side of the ball, losing DT Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins is a huge blow to the defensive line. The team signed former Baltimore Ravens NT Haloti Ngata to help fill that hole, but Suh has been one of the most disruptive forces in all of the NFL ever since he was drafted in 2010 from Nebraska. DEs Ziggy Ansah & Jason Jones will be needed to be explosive pass rushers & be able to assist in getting pressure in the pass rush while Ngata should be able to hold two blockers with his rush up the middle & open up some gaps for the linebackers to roam free, especially when the Lions will put 8 men in the box.
The linebacker core could be exceptional if DeAndre Levy is healthy. He is being held out of Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers because of an internal issue. He doesn’t need surgery but it has to come into the team’s mind about truly how severe Levy’s injury really is & if he is trying to tough it through because he just signed a new contract extension, showing his dedication to the team, but possibly harming himself in the long term.
The secondary looks to be strong, especially with Glover Quin & Jame Ihedigbo at the safety positions. They are strong playmakers, especially when it comes to making turnovers on a consistent basis. Cornerback Rashean Mathis is a 13-year veteran who is experienced, but the question will be how much help will he need over the top in man-to-man situations where he has to cover some of the top receivers in the league & does he still have the speed to hang in there.
Overall , the Detroit Lions should be an 11-5 team & win the NFC North. If there was any year to win the North, its this one, especially if the Green Bay Packers aren’t the same without Jordy Nelson for the season.
It is now or never for the Detroit Lions, but this year, we give them the benefit of any doubts. [polldaddy poll=9073716]