Four franchises have never played in a Super Bowl. Jacksonville and Houston you can sort of understand considering they are fairly new teams (the Texans version of Houston). But Cleveland and Detroit? The Lions are one of the flagship franchises of the NFL. Alas, I don't see that drought (nor certainly for the Jags, Texans or Browns) ending in 2017 for Detroit.
I'm not going to sit here and say I thought at one point last season that Detroit was going to win the NFC, but the Lions were at least legitimate contenders for a while and on pace to take their first division title since 1993 when the NFC North was still called the Central.
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The Lions were 9-4 and in control of the division following a Week 14 20-17 home victory over Chicago. QB Matthew Stafford set an NFL record in that game by leading an incredible eighth fourth-quarterback comeback of the season. However, Stafford gruesomely injured his finger in that game and it showed in his accuracy.
Stafford was in the MVP race before that injury, but neither he nor the Lions - who had zero running game to support Stafford - were the same after that. Detroit lost its final three regular-season games, including a winner-take-all NFC North title matchup in Week 17 vs. the Packers. The Lions would have missed the playoffs altogether and Coach Jim Caldwell probably would have been fired had the nothing-to-play for New York Giants not shocked the Washington Redskins earlier that day.
The Skins' loss got Detroit a wild-card spot, but predictably the Lions were routed in Seattle. Stafford is up for a mega-extension this summer that could make him the highest-paid player in NFL history temporarily. I have a feeling his agent and the one of Oakland QB Derek Carr are waiting for the other side to sign an extension first so his guy can top it. Stafford is entering the final season of the extension he signed in 2013, and the team could always slap the franchise tag on him after 2017 if need be. That usually leads to bad feelings from the QB, however.
Detroit was 3-5 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." The Lions travel to two playoff teams in 2017: NY Giants and Green Bay. Just one set of back-to-back away games. The home schedule looks tougher even with the Browns on it. I project a 2-6 road record. Odds listed for the home team .
Sept. 18 at Giants (-3): Monday night, with Detroit likely 1-0 (no sure thing, though) after hosting Arizona in Week 1.The Lions began their late-season slide in New York last year, losing 17-6 in Week 15. That was the first game after Stafford's injury came to light, and he was wearing a big splint on the finger. It was the fewest points Detroit scored in 2016. Key trends: Lions are 5-3 ATS at Giants.
Oct. 1 at Vikings (-3): I believe the Lions will be on a two-game skid entering this one off that trip to the Giants and hosting Atlanta in Week 4. Detroit absolutely stole a victory in its first-ever visit to U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 9 last year, 22-16 in OT. Matt Prater kicked a 58-yard field goal as time expired, and then Golden Tate did all the work on a 28-yard TD reception from Stafford on the Lions' first possession of OT. Key trends: Lions 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 as road dog in series.
Oct. 15 at Saints (-2.5): Detroit off a home game vs. Carolina and ahead of its bye. The Lions have won in the Superdome the past two seasons. It was 28-13 in Week 13 last year. Stafford passed for 341 yards and two touchdowns, and the Detroit defense picked off Drew Brees three times and held him without a TD pass, which is incredibly rare at home. Key trend: Lions 5-4 ATS at New Orleans.
Nov. 6 at Packers (-7.5): Second straight prime-time game for the Lions as they host Pittsburgh on Sunday night in Week 8. Detroit ended that two decade-plus losing streak in Wisconsin in 2015 but got back to normal last year in a 34-27 Week 3 loss. That score is a tad misleading as the Pack led 31-3 late in the second quarter. Stafford threw for 385 yards and three scores in comeback mode. Key trend: Lions 1-9 SU & 4-5-1 ATS as a road dog of at least 7 points in series.
Nov. 19 at Bears (+1): Lions should be coming off a home win over Cleveland in Week 10. Easily Detroit's worst loss of last year, at least according to the level of competition, was 17-14 in Soldier Field in Week 4. After that, Detroit was 1-3 and Caldwell was in major trouble. Key trend: Lions have been road favorites six times in series (past two) and are 2-4 ATS.
Dec. 3 at Ravens (-3): Extra rest for the Lions after hosting Minnesota on Thanksgiving. This looks to be the Lions' first likely chance at playing in wintry weather, although you never know what Green Bay or Chicago will be like in those two previous road games.Caldwell was the Ravens' quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator for their Super Bowl run after replacing the fired Cam Cameron in December that 2012 season. Key trend: Lions 4-2 ATS at AFC North teams.
Dec. 10 at Bucs (-3): Break here for Lions in that you want to play in Florida in December when weather is nice and not September or October when it can be stifling hot and humid. Matchup of former No. 1 overall picks in Stafford and Jameis Winston. Key trend: Lions 9-1 ATS in past 10 at Tampa.
Dec. 24 at Bengals (-3): Detroit comes off a Week 15 home game vs. Chicago. Only one potential cold-weather game for the dome Lions in their final four is a bit of a break. This is the first time the Lions have been scheduled to play on Christmas Eve since 2011, when they routed San Diego 38-10 to clinch their first playoff berth in 12 years.Key trend: Lions are 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 December games as a dog of at least 3 points.
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