As we continue to get closer to kickoff of the Detroit Lions' first game, we will get you ready for the start of the 2012 season by making a number of predictions. Our series of predictions begins with Pride Of Detroit's writers discussing what they think the Lions' record will be in 2012. Each of us made a prediction about the Lions' record and provided an explanation, and you can do the same by voting in the poll and leaving your thoughts in the comments.
It is hard to be good, but it is much harder to be great. In the 2012 NFL season the Detroit Lions will be trying to make that leap from being a good team to being great. It will take commitment and excellent play for them to accomplish that goal. I believe the Lions have the commitment necessary to do it. I just don't know if they are quite ready to play as well as the task demands.
The Lions have a more favorable schedule this season than they did last year. I also believe that the team has improved despite the lack of splashy free agent acquisitions. Martin Mayhew is a savvy strategist and he built more depth on the team through the draft and selectively signing more sensible free agents.
I predict that the Lions will run the table at home. Their losses will come in away games at San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Green Bay. If you have already done the math, that means I am predicting the Lions to finish at 12-4 and win the NFC North division title. That obviously means they will make the playoffs. I tend to be optimistic at the beginning of a new season and this one is no different.
Now before you all carry me off in your lynch mob, consider the following facts from the 2011 season: the Lions failed to defeat a team with a winning record (to their credit, they beat four 8-8 teams), they trailed by double-digits in half of their games and against playoff teams the Lions finished 1-6.
Okay, now that I've beaten your morale down, let me build it back up. The schedule this year is pretty favorable. The Lions only have five games against teams that made the playoffs last year. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are still on the team and are as healthy as ever. The best players on the Lions are the young guys, and we should see improvements from many this year. Finally, the Lions should get a lot more contributions out of last year's stud draft picks Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairley.
But I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with those expecting another big improvement from the Lions this year. The team we'll see in 2012 is basically the same we saw in 2011. They'll put up plenty of points, but they'll struggle on defense. They could very well fall behind big in games again this year, especially if the offense struggles early in games. And as for all of the comebacks the Lions made last year, there's no way that sort of trend is sustainable. Last year, the Lions had luck on their side, ranking sixth in turnover margin and being the prime benefactors of the Chicago Bears' late-season injuries. Most will see a 9-7 season for the Lions as a regression, but to me, it's really more a sign of stability. And that sort of thing is harder to come by than most people think. Just ask the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When I provided the fan forecast for Kissing Suzy Kolber's Detroit Lions preview, I touched on all the negatives that could dirty the usual Kool-Aid that gets passed around amongst Lions fans this time of year. In addition to what felt like a rough offseason for the Lions, all the pundits seem to have the Lions not making it back to the playoffs this season. I don't think that's a horribly offensive prediction, actually, although it's a bit surprising.
Assuming the Lions remain relatively healthy for the duration of the season, the schedule still presents some real concerns. AccuScore has the Lions finishing 11-5, but I could see the Lions losing on Thanksgiving (again), to the Falcons (again) and possibly even laying an egg during one of their road games. Sure, they could beat the 49ers on SNF or the Eagles in Philadelphia Week 6, but on paper right now, those are being projected as losses. Conceivably, the Lions could finish anywhere from 8-8 to 11-5, so I'll just throw a dart somewhere in the middle of that. Caveat: I'm not very good at darts.
Sean Yuille: 9-7
A quick glance at the Lions' schedule for 2012 reveals a lot of winnable games despite the fact that so many in the first half of the season are on the road. The key for Detroit is to make it through the stretch to begin the season where six of their first nine games are on the road. If the Lions can come out of the first nine games with a winning record, I will consider it to be a major victory heading into the final seven games, as five of them are at home.
In that first stretch, I have the Lions going 5-4. I see them opening the season with wins against the St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings. I believe they will stumble in Week 2 at the San Francisco 49ers, and I actually have them losing back-to-back games on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears. In the following two weeks, I have the Lions rebounding with wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars before stumbling at the Metrodome against the Vikings in an upset.
Although the Lions have five home games to finish the season after this point, I only have them winning four more games. I think they will beat the Green Bay Packers at home but lose to them on the road, and I think the Lions will take care of business against the Indianapolis Colts but fall to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving. In the final three games, I have the Lions beating both the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons but falling to the Bears in the season finale at Ford Field. A playoff spot could very well be on the line in that game, but I just see the Lions losing a game they should win. Unfortunately, based on how the schedule sets up, I have it happening in the final week of the season and costing them a return trip to the playoffs.
9-7 and missing the playoffs would be a step backward for the Lions, but it's no easy task to put together consecutive playoff appearances. It certainly would be disappointing, but simply having another winning season would be a positive sign in my mind. Of course, I hope I'm wrong and the Lions do return to the playoffs, but I'm just feeling pessimistic about their outlook going into the season.