On Thursday I looked at the Jacksonville Jaguars' 2016 home schedule and my lead was about how Gus Bradley is among the favorites on the "First NFL Coach Fired" prop. He was priced at +1200. Well, the second-favorite on that prop at +400 is Detroit's Jim Caldwell, and many are still surprised that Caldwell is still in charge in Motown. But the Lions were a playoff team under Caldwell in 2014, and after a 1-7 start last year the team played much better and finished at 7-9.
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Other than Denver with Peyton Manning, I don't believe any other team in the NFL lost a more important player to retirement this offseason than the Lions did with Calvin Johnson, the best receiver in franchise history and a future Hall of Famer. Like Barry Sanders did with the Lions, Johnson stepped away while he was still very productive and fairly young. "Megatron" holds 15 NFL records, including the most receiving yards in a season with 1,964 in 2012. You don't replace a walking mismatch like that.
So now Golden Tate moves into the No. 1 role, and the Lions signed former Bengals receiver Marvin Jones, a decent enough player, to slot in as the No. 2. The team also figures to use tight end Eric Ebron more, although he has been hurt in camp with some mystery ankle problem. Matthew Stafford really played well in that strong closing stretch last season, and I think he will have a big year. Although the Lions won't go anywhere if they don't improve an atrocious running game. I thought Ameer Abdullah would have a very nice rookie season, but that didn't happen. Part of it was a weak offensive line, and the Lions took Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker with their first-round pick this year. He should start from Day 1 at left tackle. Riley Reiff, who started the last three seasons at left tackle, is the No. 1 right tackle.
The defense will be OK but certainly better if outside linebacker DeAndre Levy can play after barely doing so in 2015 due to a hip injury. The team has been very vague about Levy thus far in camp, and he's not on the depth chart but the Non-Football Injury list. Not really sure what that's all about. Even the team's beat writers appear in the dark.
The Lions were 4-4 at home last season, 3-5 against the spread and 6-2 "over/under." They host three 2015 playoff teams this season. Outside the division, it's a pretty easy slate. I project a 5-3 record. Detroit has a wins total of 7.5 at BetOnline, with the under at -140. And I'd go under as this looks like a 7-9 team again. Caldwell won't keep his job with that. Overall, the Lions' strength of schedule ranks as tied for the fourth-easiest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2015 winning percentage of .465. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 18 vs. Titans (-5): Detroit probably 0-1 as it visits Indianapolis in Week 1. Tennessee also likely 0-1 as it hosts Minnesota on the first Sunday of the season. Detroit has lost the past four in this series, most recently 44-41 in Nashville in 2012. Key trend: Lions have covered four of their past five as a home favorite of at least 5 points.
Oct. 9 vs. Eagles (-1): Lions off a trip to Chicago in Week 4. Philly comes off its very early bye week. The Eagles' new defensive coordinator this year is former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. Detroit trashed the visiting Eagles 45-14 on Thanksgiving last year. Stafford had one of the best games of his career in throwing for 337 yards, five TDs and no picks. Johnson caught three of those scores. The Lions had six sacks and held Philly to 227 yards. Key trend: Lions have covered past two home meetings in series.
Oct. 16 vs. Rams (-1.5): Los Angeles is home to Buffalo the previous Sunday. Detroit lost in St. Louis last season in Week 14, 21-14. Stafford was 30-for-46 for 245 yards, two TDs (both to Tate) and a pick. Megatron was invisible with one catch for 16 yards. The Lions also couldn't slow Todd Gurley. Key trend: Lions 5-5 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC West.
Oct. 23 vs. Redskins (-1): First home game vs. a 2015 playoff team, and I'm pretty confident in saying the Redskins won't be one this year. Washington is off a home game vs. Philly in Week 6. This will matter to Skins QB Kirk Cousins as it would be his first pro game in his native Michigan. Detroit has won the past three meetings, last 27-20 on the road in 2013. Key trend: Lions have covered four of past six at home in series.
Nov. 20 vs. Jaguars (-3.5): Detroit off its bye week. Jacksonville is home to Houston the previous Sunday. Detroit ended a three-game losing streak in this series with a 31-14 win at Jacksonville in 2012. Key trend: Lions have won and covered four straight after a bye (any location).
Nov. 24 vs. Vikings (+2.5): Thanksgiving game with usual 12:30 p.m. ET start time. Minnesota hosts Arizona the previous Sunday. The Lions have won three straight on Turkey Day in impressive fashion. Last year they lost at home to the Vikings in Week 7, 28-19. The Lions led 14-3 entering the second quarter. Stafford threw for 256 yards and two scores but was sacked seven times. Detroit had 274 total yards. Key trend: Lions 5-5 ATS in past 10 as home dog in series.
Dec. 11 vs. Bears (-2.5): Lions are off a trip to New Orleans in Week 13. Chicago is home to San Francisco the previous Sunday. The Lions have won six straight against Chicago and four of the past five against the Bears in Detroit. Last year it was 37-34 in OT in Week 6. Stafford threw one of his four TD passes to Johnson and also hit him a 57-yard play that set up Matt Prater's 27-yard field goal with 2:29 left in OT. Key trend: Lions 5-5 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in this series.
Jan. 1 vs. Packers (TBA): Again, no Week 17 lines posted early with too much up in the air on the final Sunday. Short week for Detroit as it is in Dallas in the final Monday night game of the 2016 season in Week 16. Green Bay is off a Christmas Eve game at home vs. Minnesota. The Lions lost 27-23 at home to Green Bay in Week 13 on a Thursday last year on that Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary that was preceded by an incredibly stupid facemask penalty on Detroit's Devin Taylor that gave the Packers one last play with no time on the clock. The Lions were up 20-0 in the third and 23-14 with less than four minutes left in the fourth. Key trend: Lions 3-7 ATS in past 10 at home in series.
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