We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2016 season in the NFC North with the Detroit LIons, who are coming off a third-place finish in the division last season.
The Lions regressed last season, finishing 7-9 after making the playoffs in 2014. Head coach Jim Caldwell will have a difficult time leading the team to a winning season in 2016 following the retirement of No. 1 WR Calvin Johnson this offseason, leaving a big hole in the passing game that QB Matthew Stafford will have to find a way to fill. The team signed WRs Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin to go along with WR Golden Tate in hopes of replacing some of Johnson’s production.
Despite the team’s sub-.500 record, Stafford had a better season in 2015 than he did the year before. He had 398 completions for 4,262 yards and 32 touchdowns — the second-highest total of his career — to go along with 13 interceptions. Tate led the team in receptions last season with 90, for 813 yards and 6 touchdowns. With the Bengals last season, Jones caught 65 passes his 13 starts for 816 yards and 4 touchdowns while Boldin had 69 receptions with 789 yards and 4 touchdowns with the 49ers. RB Ameer Abdullah was the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 143 times for 597 yards and touchdowns in nine starts. In an injury-plagued season, RB Joique Bell played in 13 games — five starts — and totaled 90 carries for 311 yards and 4 touchdowns. The defense held the team back, allowing 400 points — 10th-most in the league — while recording just 9 interceptions, which wa tied for the third-fewest among the 32 NFL teams.
Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter likely have to come up with a new offensive game plan this season after losing Johnson, one of the best receivers of his era. The running game, led by Abdullah, will likely have to pick up some of the slack. With Bell no longer with the team, RB Theo Riddick is expected to get a bigger workload as the No. 2 back after largely being used in the passing game last season. The team’s top two tight ends, Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew, both missed time with injuries in 2015 so the team could get better numbers out of them if they can have a healthier year than they did last season, although Pettigrew may not be ready for the start of the season as he continues to recover from knee surgery. Ebron recently suffered an ankle injury in training camp, but it does not appear to be serious and shouldn’t keep him out of action for an extended period.
After a couple games against AFC South teams to kick off their 2016 schedule, the Lions begin their divisional games with back-to-back road games against the Packers and Bears in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively. They have their first meeting with the Vikings in Minnesota in Week 9, just before the Lions’ Week 10 bye. After their off-week, the Lions get a home game against the Jaguars. And their season concludes with road games against the Giants and Cowboys in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, and a home game with the Packers in Week 17. Overall, the Lions have a fairly easy schedule — it’s tied for the third-easiest slate in the league in terms of strength of schedule, based on last year’s win-loss records — which should help the team get back to .500. However, they’re in a tough division with the Packers and Vikings both coming off of playoff appearances last season, so it’ll be tough for the Lions to land a playoff spot this year.