2011 Detroit Lions Predictions and NFL Futures Odds
by Alan Matthews - 8/18/2011
A 6-10 record isn’t often a promising sign of hope for an NFL franchise – but then again most NFL franchises didn’t hire Matt Millen to drive it into the ground for nearly a decade. Of course, I am speaking of the Detroit Lions, who fired Millen three games into the 2008 season but not before he made the franchise essentially the Bengals of the NFC. Detroit went on to infamy in that ’08 campaign by becoming the only franchise to have an 0-16 season. The club took a baby step in 2009 under first-year coach Jim Schwartz, the former Titans defensive coordinator, by winning two games.
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Then last season, the Lions really started to show signs that they might be ready to compete in the NFC North. Six wins might not sound like a lot, but it was tied the second-most the team had had since 2001. And the Lions had only their fourth non-losing record at home (4-4) since the turn of the century. Detroit beat Super Bowl champion Green Bay, although it helped greatly that the Lions knocked out Packers QB Aaron Rodgers early, and nearly upset the AFC finalist Jets. The Lions even ended their NFL record 26-game road losing skid the week after the Green Bay victory by winning in overtime at what would be a 10-win Tampa Bay Bucs team. Detroit finished the year on a four-game winning streak. The next step is to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season and maybe even win a postseason game for the first time since the 1991 season.
The key to the offense is the health of former No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford at quarterback. He has played in only 13 of 32 possible games in his career, including just two full games last season. Stafford was very good in those two games, completing 46 of 81 passes for 452 yards, six touchdowns, one interception and a rating north of 90. And for what it’s worth, Stafford reportedly has been brilliant in camp and was nearly flawless in the preseason opener. The passing attack is in good hands with Stafford and Megatron, stud WR Calvin Johnson. Detroit drafted former Boise State star WR Titus Young to complement Johnson and provide a deep threat as the No. 3 receiver, but he has been hurt in camp. The offensive line needs to keep Stafford upright, and it was pretty solid last year in allowing only 26 sacks, T-6th fewest in NFL. Left tackle Jeff Backus has a torn pectoral muscle but the Lions swear he will be ready for the season – he better be. Backus hasn’t missed a game in his 10 previous seasons.
The Lions do need to improve a running game that was 23rd in the NFL last season in averaging 100.8 yards per game. Jahvid Best showed some signs of stardom in his rookie year, as he had five total touchdowns in Detroit’s first two games. But then injuries slowed him down. The Lions figured they had a good change-of-pace back to Best in another 2011 second-round pick, Mikel Leshoure of Illinois. But he was lost for the season early in camp. Now it’s either Jerome Harrison or Mike Bell who likely backs up Best. That’s not very exciting.
The last thing it appeared Detroit needed to address with its first-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft was the defensive line after the dominant performance of tackle Ndamukong Suh in winning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. But when Auburn’s Nick Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner, dropped to 13th the Lions couldn’t help themselves. Fairley hurt his foot at the start of camp and hasn’t practiced at all, although the team hopes he’s ready for the opener. With Fairley, the Lions should have one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. And they are solid at linebacker, especially after adding free agent Justin Durant from the Jaguars. The main question is in the secondary. Free agent addition Eric Wright is expected to move right into a starting role at right cornerback.
2011 Detroit Lions Schedule Analysis
I’m not a big fan of strength of schedule, but Detroit’s is ranked tied for third in terms of opponents’ 2010 winning percentage – it’s at .520. Obviously, the Lions play each North team twice – the only division club they didn’t beat last year was the Bears, and Detroit probably deserved to win in Chicago on Opening Day but for a questionable call on a Calvin Johnson TD catch late in the game. The big news in the schedule is the NFL gave the Lions their first prime-time game since 2005, a Week 5 matchup at Ford Field against those Bears. Detroit’s last Monday night game was in 2001. The key for Detroit is to go into that game no worse than 2-2 as three of its first four games are on the road (Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Dallas). That Chicago game starts a three-game homestand. The Lions have seven total games vs. 2010 playoff teams.
2011 Detroit Lions NFL Futures Odds
Detroit is +550 to win the North, +1500 to win the NFC and +3000 to win the Super Bowl on Bodog. The Lions’ ‘over/under’ win total on WagerWeb is 7.5, with the ‘over’ a -135 favorite.
2011 Detroit Lions Predictions
The Lions aren’t quite there yet to win the division – not with the two NFC title teams residing in the North and the Vikings potentially a playoff threat with the addition of Donovan McNabb. If Stafford plays all 16 games, it’s not out of the question that Detroit finishes second and sneaks into the playoffs as a Wild Card. More realistically, I think the Lions will win eight games, so go with the ‘over’ on that.
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