This is the time of year where all sorts of folks release NFL season predictions. From glossy magazines to respected analysts tweeting out pics of a spreadsheet, there are tons of quality opinions out there.
Many have pegged the Detroit Lions as a disappointment in 2014. One of those is Cian Fahey, an intelligent, widely read writer here at Bleacher Report and several other outlets. Fahey pegs the Lions at 6-10, per his Twitter feed:
ICYMI last night: pic.twitter.com/bywC0fJfvE— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) July 22, 2014
I asked him how he arrived at his prognostication. Fahey cited concerns with the tough NFC North schedule, which fairly points out a formidable schedule.
He also questioned whether new coach Jim Caldwell could "fix" Matthew Stafford. If the Lions quarterback cannot play with more consistency and efficiency, Fahey's prediction could very well be accurate.
Then came the most popular refrain heard about the Lions from all corners of the sports media landscape: the secondary. To quote Fahey, Detroit's defensive backfield "scares the life out of me."
Noted Twitter provocateur, writer and sports radio host Ben Allbright also predicts the Lions will finish 6-10:
I picked Allbright's football mind for his rationale. He also focused on the tough schedule and the secondary.
"I expect the Lions to be a 6- to 8-win team. While the offense figures to be improved, the defense still has a few holes, specifically in the secondary.
"They also have the added disadvantage of being in their own buzzsaw of a division that is likely to see to 10- to 11-plus game-winners in Chicago and GB. Schedule provides some tough games as well in away games with Car, AZ, and NE."
The concerns over the schedule, which is indeed imposing, is a variable the Lions cannot control. Detroit has not earned the benefit of the doubt of being able to consistently win on the road.
|Detroit Lions' Road Records|
|2013||3-5||1-2 in NFC North|
Allbright was generally positive and made it clear he likes the direction the team is heading but thinks it will take another year to make the playoffs.
That is a pretty common opinion.
Yet another 6-10 finish is predicted by Hub Arkush's Pro Football Now, a magazine offering from the publisher of the sadly defunct Pro Football Weekly.
This one is interesting, because most of the positional analysis is relatively glowing. Even the summary that precedes the prediction seems strangely disconnected to the forecast of failure:
Detroit has a dynamic roster with the necessary offensive firepower to challenge the Packers and Bears in the NFC North. With Caldwell at the helm, the Lions might finally have a disciplined, even-keeled leader capable of guiding a young and talented team to realize its full potential.
Doesn't exactly sound like a 6-10 team, does it? Arkush cites a couple of familiar refrains in conclusion, writing, "It all begins with the maturation of Stafford, but the Lions pass defense must also show the necessary growth in the secondary to maximize its imposing front four."
The point about Stafford is well-rooted. His performance is what I consider the biggest variable not only in Detroit, but the entire NFC North. We won't really know how it is going to play out for Stafford in the new offense until we all witness it this fall.
Yet the barrage of criticism directed at the Detroit secondary speaks to a mistakenly widely held misconception about the Lions and the NFC North.
Per Team Rankings, here is the QB rating allowed by the four NFC North defenses in 2013:
|Team||QB Rating Allowed||NFL Rank|
The Lions also allowed the fewest opposing touchdown passes and yards per attempt of the four NFC North teams a year ago.
If folks are so worried about the Detroit secondary, shouldn't they have even graver concerns about the Lions' division rivals, who were all inferior to Detroit's allegedly awful one last year?
There seems to be another overarching theme at play here too. Years of a lack of success have understandably produced skepticism that the Lions can reach their considerable potential. Last season's collapse from 6-3 and controlling playoff destiny to 7-9 and the end of the Jim Schwartz regime is legitimate fodder in those negative cannons.
More predictions will come out as we inch closer to the regular season. The early returns are not bullish on these Lions. However, the negativity is laced with optimism. People like the talent, but they need to see it play well before believing in the 2014 Detroit Lions.