Detroit Lions could struggle in improved NFC North

QB Stafford needs more help from defense, run game

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Lions

2018 win total: 8

2017 ATS record: 8-7-1

Optimist view

QB Matt Stafford gives the Lions a chance to win any game in which they’re close in the fourth quarter, and he’ll be throwing again to the only WR teammates in the NFL who each exceeded 1,000 yards last season in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.

The big difference this year is that new head coach Matt Patricia, a defensive guru, is expected to raise the level of play on a unit that has struggled to keep pace with the other side of the ball. The defensive personnel has been tweaked, but it remains to be seen if the talent level has been elevated. Best guess is that Patricia has at least brought in players who are ideal fits in the hybrid scheme he intends to run, which could be worth a win or two.

Pessimist view:

For three seasons now, no NFL team has done a worse job running the ball than the Lions. Adding LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson, neither of whom is much of a breakaway threat, probably isn’t enough to make a big improvement, considering the only upgrade to an inferior offensive line is rookie Frank Ragnow. 

And, though Stafford had another typically productive season, the Lions were only 24th at avoiding sacks. Stafford was sacked 47 times last year, the most in any of his nine seasons.

It stands to reason that it will take more than few months to acquire the ideal personnel to make the defensive switch from a full-time 4-3 to a hybrid scheme, and the Lions’ defense wasn’t blessed with much talent for any scheme. Their best player, Ziggy Ansah, has had trouble staying healthy for 16 games in each of the past two seasons. He still managed 12 sacks in 2017 but had just two the year before.

On schedule:

In a bit of a quirk, the Lions play just one game against an NFC North foe in the first eight week. That stretch includes a Week Six bye and three games against teams with double-digit losses last season – the opener at home against the Jets (5-11), Week Two in San Francisco against the 49ers (6-10) and Week Seven against the 6-10 Dolphins in Miami.

The second half includes home-and-away games vs. the Vikings (13-3) and Bears (5-11) and road games in three of the final four weeks.

Prediction: Under.

This is a team that in recent history has almost always hovered around the .500 mark. The Lions have finished 9-7 in each of the past two seasons and were 7-9 in two of the previous three seasons with an 11-5 aberration tossed in in 2014.

The Vikings should be better because of Kirk Cousins at quarterback. The Packers should be much better as long as QB Aaron Rodgers plays at least 15 games, which he has done eight times in the last 10 years. And the Bears should be good enough to earn a split vs. the Lions after being dominated by them the past five seasons, during which Detroit won nine times in 10 meetings.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos