You know how they say you need to have some sort of nice balance between the run and pass in the NFL to be successful? Well, I'm not sure that's true any longer. In 2011, one of the two seasons Detroit made the playoffs this century, the Lions rushed the ball 356 times and had 666 passing attempts, completing 423 of them. Last year, when they returned to the playoffs, Detroit ran the ball 396 times and threw it 604 times, completing 365 passes. Last year, the Lions averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, their worst since 2003.
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But when you have Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, you don't need to run it much. Running back Reggie Bush has moved on, but he was used more as a receiver. I really liked the pick of Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round of this year's draft. He will back up Joique Bell to start this season, but I think Abdullah is going to be a good pro. Bell is coming off knee and Achilles injuries from last season.
The Lions were fantastic on defense in 2014. They were able to hang on to coordinator Teryl Austin at least for one more year, but of course Pro Bowl tackle Ndamukong Suh signed with Miami. I don't see the Lions finishing No. 2 in total defense again.
Detroit was 4-4 on the road last season, 2-6 against the spread and 1-7 "over/under." Their 2015 road schedule ranks as the 14th-easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .523. It's third-easiest in the NFC North.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 13 -- at Chargers (-2.5): Detroit catches a major break here in that San Diego tight end and future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates has been suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's PED policy. Gates tied for the league lead among tight ends with 12 TDs last season. Could this be the final home opener at Qualcomm for the Bolts? First Lions visit since 2007. Lions lose this. Key trend: Lions are 4-6 ATS in past 10 at AFC West.
Sept. 20 -- at Vikings (pick'em): Short week for Minnesota as it is in San Francisco for the late Monday night game in Week 1. Of course, the Lions didn't have to deal with Adrian Peterson last year but will here barring injury. Detroit won in Minnesota 17-3 in Week 6 last year, just the Lions' second win there in the past 17 trips. They had eight sacks of Teddy Bridgewater and picked him off three times. Stafford was a quiet 19-for-33 for 185 yards and a score. Lions win this. Key trend: Lions have covered only two of past 10 at Vikings.
Oct. 5 -- at Seahawks (-7.5): Monday night game. Incredibly tough second of a back-to-back as Detroit hosts Denver on Sunday night in Week 3. Seattle is off a home game vs. Chicago the previous Sunday. Seattle was the only team ranked better in total and scoring defense than the Lions in 2014. First Detroit trip to Pacific Northwest since 2009. Lions lose this. Key trend: Lions 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 7 points.
Nov. 1 -- at Chiefs (-1): This comes after a three-game homestand for Detroit, which concludes in Week 7 vs. Minnesota. It's also in London and before the Lions' bye week. The Lions beat the Falcons in London last season, the first game the league started at 9:30 ET a.m. over there. All of the London games will start at that time this year. Nice break here in that the Lions don't have to go to raucous Arrowhead Stadium. First meeting since a 48-3 Lions win in 2011. They win this. Key trend: Lions 2-8 ATS in past 10 before bye (any location).
Nov. 15 -- at Packers (-7): Detroit comes off its bye, while Green Bay is off a Week 9 game at Carolina. The Loins lost an NFC North winner-take-all game at Lambeau in Week 17 last season, 30-20. Detroit hasn't won a division title since 1993 or a road game against the Packers since 1991. Stafford was pretty good in the loss, going 20-for-41 for 217 yards with three scores. Megatron caught two of them. The Lions even won the turnover battle 2-1 and saw Aaron Rodgers leave hurt for a bit. Lions lose again in Wisconsin here. Key trend: Lions have lost 10 straight as dog of at least 7 points at Packers (4-5-1 ATS).
Dec. 13 -- at Rams (-1.5): Detroit comes off another three-game homestand, which concludes on Thursday, Dec. 3, against Green Bay. Rams are off a Week 13 home game vs. Arizona. St. Louis signed former Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley this offseason. Detroit hasn't visited St. Louis since 2006. Teams last met in 2012. Lions lose this. Key trend: Lions 0-9-1 ATS in past 10 at NFC West.
Dec. 21 -- at Saints (-4): Monday night game. New Orleans is off a Week 14 game at Tampa Bay. Detroit beat visiting New Orleans 24-23 in Week 7 last season. Stafford threw two touchdown passes in the final 3:38 as the Lions rallied. The second one came after a Glover Quin interception of Drew Brees. Detroit caught another break when Rafael Bush was called for pass interference on fourth down. Johnson missed the game with an ankle injury. Tate stepped up with 10 catches for 154 yards and a TD. Lions lose here. Key trend: Lions 5-5 ATS in past 10 at NFC South.
Jan. 3 -- at Bears (TBA): As is mostly the case, no Week 17 lines yet with too many potential intangibles on the season's final day. Detroit is off a home game vs. San Francisco, while Chicago is in Tampa Bay in Week 16. I'm guessing the Bears will be eliminated from playoff contention by here. Lions won 20-14 in the Windy City in Week 16 last season. Bell scored the go-ahead TD on a 17-yard run with 7:15 left. Stafford threw for 243 yards but two picks. Johnson caught six passes for 103 yards. Suh had two sacks. Lions win here. Key trend: Lions 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 at Chicago.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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