The pieces finally came together in Detroit last season as Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson became everyone's new favourite combination.
The duo helped power an exciting young team in Motown that combined their aerial assualt with a menacing pass rush, helping to end an 11-year playoff drought.
Their wild card berth was short lived however, as they ran into an even more efficient offensive attack, losing a high scoring battle to the Saints. With so much young talent on their roster the future is bright in the Motor City.
Important Additions: DE Everette Brown, S Sean Jones
Important Losses: LB Bobby Carpenter, WR Rashied Davis, S Chris Harris, CB Alphonso Smith, QB Drew Stanton, CB Eric Wright
Reasons To Believe
1. Leader of the Pride - Calvin Johnson showed everyone last season why he is the best wide receiver in all of football. After scoring eight touchdowns in the first four games, Megatron went on to finish the year with 96 receptions, 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Johnson is part of a deep corps of receivers that includes veteran Nate Burleson, budding star Titus Young, as well as two above average tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
|Can anyone stop Calvin Johnson? Last year's totals of 96 catches, 1,681 yards and 16 TD don't even seem that lofty for a guy like Johnson.
2. Hungry Lions - The defensive line in Detroit rivals that of the Giants as Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Nick Fairley, Corey Williams and company are unrelenting in their pursuit of quarterbacks. The pressure they present up front makes up for some of the teams deficiencies in their secondary and allows them to be particularly dangerous with a lead.
3. Continuity Counts - The Lions didn't make many moves this off-season, something that can been interpreted in different ways. As a young team on the rise, management is likely content with the team's performance last season and hoping that with another year of experience under their belts, they can make an even deeper playoff push. The majority of the Lions' stars are under the age of 26 (Johnson, Stafford, Suh, Avril) and should continue to develop in 2012.
Reasons To Doubt
1. Can't Stop The Pass - As the 22nd ranked pass defence, there is plenty of room for improvement in Detroit's secondary. Eric Wright departed in free agency, leaving Chris Houston as the lone incumbent. Rookie Dwight Bentley is competing with veterans Jacob Lacey and Alphonso Smith for the right to start across from Houston. If the Lions are going to beat teams like the Packers and Saints, they will need better play from their corners.
2. Failure to Run - Jahvid Best still hasn't been cleared to practice and head coach Jim Schwartz has said that the injury is more week-to-week than day-to-day. There are now doubts that Best will return at all this season. Mikel Leshoure missed his rookie season with a torn Achilles and is now dealing with a hamstring issue. Leshoure will also miss the first two games of the season due to a suspension after he was cited twice in the off-season for marijuana possession. That leaves Kevin Smith as the Week 1 starter, a player who wasn't even in football a year ago.
3. Running Lanes - Regardless of who lines up in the backfield, the Lions offence struggled to open holes for their tailbacks a year ago and may be in a similar situation this season. In place of a rushing attack, Detroit implemented a short passing game that was effective in 2011, but it caused problems late in games when they were they were leading and looking to run the clock out. The Lions may add a veteran back like Ryan Grant to the mix, however the line will need to answer the call if the team is going to return to the playoffs.
What To Expect
The Lions have the misfortune of being in a division with the Packers and Bears, two playoff contenders. Their roster has the elements of a contender, but they will need everything to fall in their favour to reach the NFC championship. If Johnson avoids the Madden curse and Stafford stays upright, Detroit will have a chance at repeating their 10-win season. The more likely scenario is a small regression this year, as the young Lions learn how to contend for a title.