The Detroit Lions have been absolutely maddening over the past couple of seasons. They made the playoffs in 2011 and figured to contend in the NFC North for the next few years with the loaded roster they had in place. All it amounted to was a combined 11-21 record over the past two seasons and the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz.

This team is still supremely talented, and now it will be up to Jim Caldwell to get them to live up to their potential. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot by committing way too many turnovers offensively, while not getting enough takeaways on defense. They have numerous blown leads over the past two years because they rely too much on the pass as their running game has not been good enough to close out games. A lot of that could have been to do with the pass-happy play-calling of former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Caldwell brings some nice experience to this team as he has coached in three recent Super Bowls. He won one as an assistant under Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, lost one as the head coach of the Colts, and won one as an assistant with the Ravens. He has hired Joe Lombardi as the offensive coordinator, while nabbing Teryl Austin to handle the defensive play-calling duties. Both are young, first-time coordinators, but both have solid backgrounds. Lombardi worked with Drew Brees in New Orleans, while Austin was with Caldwell in Baltimore.

Detroit ranked 6th in the league in total offense last year at 392.1 yards per game. Matthew Stafford threw for 4,650 yards and 29 touchdowns, but he was also intercepted 19 times. After a hot start, the Lions were held to 21 points or fewer in six of their final eight contests. That’s a big reason why after a 6-3 start, they went just 1-6 down the stretch and missed a golden opportunity to win the wide-open NFC North.

To help out Stafford, the Lions made two key additions this spring. They brought in free-agent receiver Golden Tate, who will step in and fill the all-important No. 2 spot opposite the best receiver in football in Calvin Johnson (84 receptions, 1,492 yards, 12 TD last year). The Lions also made former UNC TE Eric Ebron the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. He will give drop-happy Brandon Pettigrew a run for his money for playing time, but also provides the Lions with the luxury of being able to use two-tight end sets.

The new weapons are nice, but Detroit is emphatic about its need to run the football this year. Joique Bell might be the most underrated backup running back in the league. He has topped the 50-reception plateau each of the past two seasons, so he can do all of the same things Reggie Bush does, but he’s a more violent runner who takes care of the football. He’ll be running behind what is a very solid offensive line. This unit allowed just 23 sacks last year, which was the second-fewest in the league, and impressive considering Stafford threw a whopping 634 times.

Most defenses struggle in the first year with the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but the Lions should be an exception to the rule due to the personnel they have on hand. In fact, they should be better with this scheme. This is a unit that actually played decently last year, ranking 16th in total defense at 346.6 yards per game and 15th in scoring defense at 23.5 points per game. They ranked sixth against the run (99.8 ypg) and 23rd agianst the pass (246.9). They only ranked 28th in sacks (33), but that number should skyrocket in this more aggressive scheme.

Detroit is absolutely loaded with pass rushers. Ndamukong Suh has lived up to his former No. 2 overall pick status, though he tends to make some bonehead plays at times. He teams with Nick Fairley, and while this duo should be dominant going forward, they combined for 20 penalties last year and need to use their heads more. The new coaching staff figures to have better control over their players, which was something that Schwartz failed to do.

Ziggy Ansah led all rookies with eight sacks last year. The Lions have added former BYU teammate Kyle Van Noy in the second round. Jason Jones will be the other starter on the defensive line, but he’s coming off a torn patellar tendon. Stephon Tulloch and DeAndre Levy figure to man the inside linebacker positions in the new 3-4 look. Both played very well last year and neither has reached 30 yet, so the potential for another strong season looks great.

While the front seven appears as dominant as any on paper, the secondary is going to need some help. The Lions failed to really address this need in the offseason, making only one move of any significance. They signed James Ihedigbo from the Ravens, but he isn’t nearly as talented as the safety he is replacing in Louis Delmas. However, Delmas was always banged up and missed time, so Ihedigbo should be more dependable considering he hasn’t missed a game in three years. He’ll team up with Glover Quin to man the safety positions.

The biggest problem is at cornerback, where many thought the Lions would use the No. 10 overall pick on Justin Gilbert. However, Gilbert was taken two spots earlier by Cleveland, which threw a wrinkle into their plans. The top three corners on the roster are now Rashean Mathis, Darius Slay and Bill Bentley. The only hope is that fourth-rounder Nevin Lawson can prove to be a steal and take one of the corner spots. Mathis is the best of the bunch, but he turns 34 in August. There is hope for Bentley and Slay as they will be entering their third and second seasons, respectively.

Last Season
NFC North
ATS Record
Home ATS
Road ATS
Offense Rank
Defense Rank
Turnover Margin
Points For
Points Against
2014 Roster Changes
Draft Picks
TE Eric Ebron, DE/OLB Kyle Van Noy, C Travis Swanson, CB Nevin Lawson, DE Larry Webster, DT Caraun Reid
QB Dan Orlovsky, FB Jed Collins, WR Golden Tate, DE Darryl Tapp, DT Vaughn Martin, CB Cassius Vaughn, S James Ihedigbo
QB Shaun Hill, WR Nate Burleson, OT Jason Fox, G Leroy Harris, DE Willie Young, DE Israel Idonije, CB Chris Houston, S Louis Delmas
2014 Detroit Lions Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
9/8 Giants
9/14 @ Panthers
9/21 Packers
9/28 @ Jets
10/5 Bills
10/12 @ Vikings
10/19 Saints
10/26 @ Falcons
Week 9 BYE
11/9 Dolphins
11/16 @ Cardinals
11/23 @ Patriots
11/27 Bears
12/7 Buccaneers
12/14 Vikings
12/21 @ Bears
12/28 @ Packers
Estimated Wins: 8.50

The Lions will take on the 16th-toughest schedule in the league in 2014. Their upcoming opponents went a combined 124-128-4 last season for a .492 winning percentage. They will certainly benefit from finishing third in their division, which means a couple of easier opponents than the Packers and Bears have to face.

They will be taking on both the AFC East and NFC South divisions, just as the rest of the NFC North does. They also draw the New York Giants from the NFC East at home in the opener and take on the Arizona Cardinals from the NFC West on the road. That’s key that they avoid both the 49ers and Seahawks from the West.

As it did last year, the Lions’ chances of making the playoffs will likely come down to the final few weeks of the season. They do get three straight very winnable home games against the Bears, Bucs and Vikings in Weeks 13-15. Then, they must travel to face both the Bears and Packers in the final two weeks of the season, and those two teams will likely be vying for playoff spots as well.

Oddsmakers in Las Vegas are clearly very high on the Lions this season. They have pegged them as a favorite in 10 games and an underdog in just six games. Granted, they are only a 1.5 or 1-point favorite four times, so there are going to be many toss-up games in there. Still, considering they are favored in 10, there could be some value in backing the over on their 8.5 win total.

Odds (Courtesy of Bovada)
Regular Season Win Total
to Win the NFC
to Win Super Bowl 49
18 to 1
33 to 1

The Lions have been one of the toughest teams to figure out over the last couple seasons. Statistically, they have been dominant, but they keep making too many bonehead plays with penalties and turnovers to win consistently in this league. That’s where Caldwell is expected to make the biggest impact by regaining control of this team, because Schwartz had clearly lost control at times over the past couple seasons.

The Lions ranked 6th in the league in total offense last year at 392.1 yards per game and a respectable 16th in total defense at 346.6 yards per game. As you can see, they outgained the opposition by 45.5 yards per game, which is the sign of a 9-7 team or better, but not one that went 7-9 like the Lions did. They were done in by turnovers, finishing -12 in that department. They also went just 3-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less, so they should have much better fortune in 2014.

Look for Detroit to really try and get its running game going to take some pressure off of Stafford. After all, there should be gaping holes up front as opposing defenses focus their attention more on Johnson, Tate and Ebron outside. I love the switch to the 3-4 defense as well, which will fit the personnel on this team much better. It will also lead to more sacks after the Lions tied for 28th with just 33 a year ago. The added pressure should also force more turnovers, which will help the Lions in that department as well.

I really do believe the NFC North is wide open and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see the Lions take it down. With that being said, I still don’t completely trust this team. I have no doubt they will be improved and likely finish with a winning record, but I’m calling for just 9-7 and a tie for second in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. I’m not about to bet against a healthy Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who simply own this division. Detroit could find itself as a wild-card team, though.

2014 Projections
NFC North Finish
Division Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
Over 8.5
Lions Resources
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