With the start of the 2011 season just days away for the Detroit Lions, now is the time to make predictions for what will happen over the course of the next four months. In turn, Pride of Detroit's four writers shared their thoughts and made their predictions for how the Lions will fare in 2011. You can check them out after the jump, and make sure to vote in the poll and share your thoughts in the comments.
Sean Yuille: 10-6
Admittedly, I have been fooled by preseason hype and too much Kool-Aid drinking in the past. Most notably, the Lions had me fooled after going 7-9 in 2007 and having a perfect preseason in 2008. That looked like it could be the year where the franchise finally turned things around, but that was not the case at all. The Lions went 0-16 instead and set off a chain of events that actually helped put the franchise in the position it is in today.
After spending the last three years building up talent, Martin Mayhew has assembled a team that can compete for a playoff spot and potentially even a division title. I know it's tough to forget the past and skepticism is well understood, but this Lions team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew are just some of the weapons on offense, and on defense you have Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Louis Delmas and some other talented players.
Between the talent, the coaching, another year in the system and a winning attitude that was established at the end of 2010, I see 2011 as the year things finally come together for the Lions. The schedule certainly isn't easy, but this team seems good enough to overcome it and win 10 games.
I think we will see the Lions' winning streak continue with three straight wins to open the 2011 season before Detroit falls on the road in Dallas. I have the Lions rebounding with back-to-back wins over the 49ers and Bears before losing to the Falcons. A road win against the Broncos sends the Lions into their bye week on a positive note, but the Bears come out and take one at Soldier Field to get the second half of the schedule started. The Lions rebound with wins over Carolina and Green Bay at home (yes, I think the Thanksgiving losing streak finally ends this year) before dropping a game at the Saints. They then finish the regular season with wins over the Vikings and Raiders and losses to the Chargers and Packers.
If this happens and the Lions go 10-6, I think they could sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team. The Packers are poised to win the NFC North, but I don't think a playoff berth is out of the question for the Lions if they can win 10 games.
I'll be honest. In 2007, I was completely fooled into believing the Detroit Lions offense would be one of the best in the league. Jon Kitna was getting up there in age, but he had just come off a 4,200-yard season. His age didn't matter; we had Mike Martz and a slew of receivers. Before you knew it, we'd have the reincarnation of the "Greatest Show on Turf." Flash forward to four months later: The Lions are dragging their feet on the frozen tundra of Lambeau having just lost their seventh game in eight weeks. Though he finished with over 4000 yards, Kitna threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
I haven't come close to feeling that sort of optimism since then. The following three years were filled with record-setting seasons (not the good kind) and rule-changing losses. In the past five years alone, Lions fans have gone through a lifetime's worth of agony. A few years back, all of the frustration got to me. I vowed then that I would never get my hopes up nor believe that this team would finish above .500 until the year it actually happens.
This year, I go back on my word.
While the confidence I have in this offense is eerily similar to that of 2007, one undeniable difference assures me this is different. Say it with me: Sir Matthew Stafford. Stafford had an ominous rookie season, but when the Browns game happened, there wasn't a doubter left in the pride. His small sample of statistics from last year was phenomenal (91.3 QB rating, six TDs, one INT) and he absolutely killed it in the preseason. With an equally impressive supporting cast of weapons, I fully expect a top-six passing attack.
While questions still remain of the secondary, the defense will undoubtedly be improved. The question is "how improved?" Will the linebackers live up to the hype? Will Eric Wright rebound from an awful season in Cleveland? Will Louis Delmas finally have his breakout season? If even one of those answers turns out to be "yes," this team could be seriously dangerous.
Because there are too many questions on defense and because we're stuck in the best division in the NFC, I have to temper my expectations a bit. I think the Lions will go 9-7 this year, with a best-case scenario of 10-6 or 11-5 much more likely than a disappointing 6-10 or 7-9 finish. I hate to say they're a year away, but this time it feels like the truth.
I think predicting the Lions record in 2011 is really hard compared to past years. They have rolled through opponents -- even quality ones -- this preseason, which comes at the heels of a four-game winning streak to end the 2010 season. All indications point to the momentum continuing and the Lions winning at least ten games. However, a few things need to happen.
First and foremost, Matthew Stafford needs to stay healthy. I know I'm beating the dead horse here, but the preseason showed us the type of difference having Stafford on the field makes. Aside from that, Scott Linehan and Jim Schwartz need to figure out how to get the running game going. There is more than enough talent both in the offensive line and the backfield for the Lions to be successful running the ball, but they have yet to show that they can consistently pick up yardage when they need to.
On the defensive side of the ball, they just need to continue doing what they did in the preseason. My biggest concern going into the preseason was that a defense full of young players and former draft busts was going to take a step back after a promising 2010 campaign. I think guys like Lawrence Jackson, Chris Houston and Ndamukong Suh proved that 2010 wasn't just a one year wonder. We can count on these guys to perform for a long time to come in Honolulu blue.
All in all, I expect an 11-5 season from the Lions. They play eight games against teams under .500 and the other eight against teams above .500, two of them against the Bears. I think when it's all said and done, the Lions will make the playoffs more so because of their defense instead of their offense.
Originally I had us penned down for 9-7 with us losing the home opener, but the recent turbulence in Kansas City has me bumping up my prediction to 10-6. I see six wins prior to the bye and four wins after, with a 3-3 record in the division (including losses to each divisional opponent).
I find it doubtful that we'll edge into the playoffs, but I expect a strong showing. At a bare minimum expect five home victories and three road wins. Notable upsets I've got include us losing at Minnesota and Dallas and winning against Atlanta.