We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2015 season with the next team in the NFC North — the Detroit LIons, who are coming off a second-place finish in the division and playoff appearance last season.
The Lions made the playoffs last year after a couple of disappointing seasons in 2012 and ’13. The core of the offense — led by QB Matthew Stafford — is returning for 2015, but the defense will be missing DT Ndamukong Suh — who led the Lions with 8.5 sacks last season — after he signed a big free agent contract with the Dolphins.
Stafford had a good year under center last year but not as good as he had down the two previous years. He threw for 4,257 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Part of the diminished numbers could be attributed to the fact that is No. 1 target — and one of the best receivers in the game — WR Calvin Johnson missed three games due to injury. Despite missing that time, Johnson still caught 71 passes for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns. RB Joique Bell led the team in rushing last season with 860 yards and seven scores in 15 games and just six starts. TE Eric Ebron was limited in his rookie season, catching 25 balls for 248 yards and a touchdown.
The key to Stafford improving on last year’s numbers is to have Johnson healthy all season If Ebron can perform for 16 games in his sophomore campaign, that should also help Stafford and the passing game. Bell, who is nursing an injury in the preseason, will have to take on more of the load this season after RB Reggie Bush signed with the 49ers in the offseason. RB Theo Riddick, who had just 20 carries last season, will also have to step up to fill some of the void left by Bush’s absence as he will likely be Bell’s backup this season. Losing Suh presents a problem for the defense, and DT Haloti Ngata — who was acquired in a trade with the Ravens as the Lions’ main offseason addition — was expected to be Suh’s replacement but he is injured and likely won’t be ready for the start of the regular season.
Taking a look at the Lions’ schedule, it doesn’t seem all that bad. Weeks three and four look tough, with back-to-back prime-time games against the Broncos and at the Seahawks, respectively. Home games with the Cardinals and the Bears then follow in weeks five and six. Detroit ends the season in weeks 16 and 17 with the 49ers at home and Bears on the road. I expect another good season for the Lions, who likely won’t finish ahead of the Packers to win the division but have a good shot at making the postseason once again if the defense can hold up without Suh and Ngata potentially missing time during the season.