Detroit fans have seen more than their share of false dawns, and the franchise is long overdue some playoff success. The last time they finished as Division winners was back in 1993, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. However, with a new head coach in Matt
Patricia, there is renewed optimism that the Lions can finally start to deliver.
The first step is to return to the playoffs. Last season’s 9-7 record wasn’t bad, particularly given that the NFC North is one of the toughest Divisions in the NFL, but it wasn’t good enough, as Minnesota clinched the title. The biggest problems were a misfiring ground game
and a weak defensive front seven – so how have they addressed those issues?
The addition of LeGarrette Blount should boost the running game. He’s a hard-hitting Sledgehammer who was scoring 18 touchdowns in one season not too long ago and has worked with Matt Patricia before. That looks like a solid signing.
However, if the Lions are going to improve their chances of making the playoffs, and perhaps even rate higher in the betting for the Division title with fans who bet at Stakers.com, they badly need to perform better on defense, and no one can say that they haven’t recognized
that weakness. Linebackers Brandon Copeland, Tahir Whitehead, and Paul Worrilow have all departed, along with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
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Among the replacements, Devon Kennard is the big one. A skilled pass-rusher, he will fill a gap in the Lions defense, and Jonathan Freeny and Christian Jones also look like useful additions. Sylvester Williams, released by Tennessee, will solve the nose tackle problem.
Will these changes help Detroit to clamber to the top of the North? That looks like a tough task, with one team, in particular, standing in their way. While Green Bay and the Bears are likely to be better next season, to get to the playoffs, the Lions will almost certainly have to go
through the Vikings. Head to head, Detroit has an excellent record against Minnesota, winning four of their last six encounters, but that didn’t stop them finishing second last season.
The Vikings have made big changes at quarterback, with Kirk Cousins one of the most significant signings this year, and he will provide experience and consistency, while Sheldon Richardson is a significant upgrade to an already impressive defensive line.
Detroit will have to pull off some significant successes in the draft to catch up with the Vikings. In particular, they need a star linebacker and reinforcements among the defensive backs and at tight end. An additional running back to complement Kennard would also help. However, one thing that might be in their favor is their schedule. Though they face some tough home games, the Lions will have an easier time than either the Packers or the Vikings next season,
and that could help them to close the gap at the top of the Division and reach the playoffs.